Quantitative Predictions of RNA Evolution (Visiting Scholar)
New species evolve through an ordered accumulation of insertions, deletions and SNPs. These modifications happen at the DNA level of organisms but their effects show up at either the translation level of proteins or the transcription level of RNA. RNA plays a crucial large role in the cell, not only as a messenger of genetic information, but also regulating alternative splicing and gene expression. These additional, non-protein coding roles are controlled by the untranslated regions of genes and in many cases, dependent on the folding of the RNA. However, most RNAs do not inhabit one set structure but rather an ensemble of similar structures. These structural ensembles are exquisitely sensitive to certain mutations and impervious to others. How a mutation will affect an RNA is dependent on the mutations that have accumulated beforehand. This order of mutational accumulation, that must play a role in dictating the pathway an RNA takes to evolve, can be extrapolated and reconstructed. This extrapolation and reconstruction requires new computational tools which I propose to build and test.