To understand how the nucleotide sequence of ribosomal RNA determines its tertiary structure, we developed a new approach for identification of those features of rRNA sequence that are responsible for formation of different short and long-range interactions. The approach is based on the co-analysis of several examples of a particular recurrent RNA motif. For different cases of the motif, we design combinatorial gene libraries in which equivalent nucleotide positions are randomized. Through in vivo expression of the designed libraries we select those variants that provide for functional ribosomes. Then, analysis of the nucleotide sequences of the selected clones would allow us to determine the sequence constraints imposed on each case of the motif. The constraints shared by all cases are interpreted as providing for the integrity of the motif, while those ones specific for individual cases would enable the motif to fit into the particular structural context. Here we demonstrate the validity of this approach for three examples of the so-called along-groove packing motif found in different parts of ribosomal RNA.
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