Robert Spitale, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, and John Chaput, professor of pharmaceutical sciences, chemistry, and molecular biology & biochemistry, are recipients of a $1 million grant from Keck Foundation to develop new RNA tools.

UCI lands $1 million Keck Foundation grant to develop new RNA tools

Two UCI researchers have received a $1 million grant from the prestigious W.M. Keck Foundation to develop new technologies to study the dynamic properties of key RNA modifications. The grant goes to principal investigator Robert Spitale, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, and co-investigator John Chaput, professor of pharmaceutical sciences, chemistry and molecular biology & biochemistry. Although the field of epigenetics research has witnessed tremendous growth, current research activities struggle to understand the importance of key modifications made to specific DNA, RNA, and protein molecules. RNA – one of the recent newcomers to the field – has garnered significant interest due to the importance of coding and non-coding RNA in many biological pathways. Currently, very few molecular biology tools exist to study RNA modifications, and none function with single-nucleotide resolution. Spitale and Chaput hope to overcome this problem by establishing reagents that recognize modified RNA with single or near-single nucleotide resolution.

“These tools will provide the first experimental analysis of individual RNA modifications and the functional role that these positions play in cellular decision-making,” Spitale said. “The prospect of establishing tools that function with single-nucleotide resolution is extremely interesting. Current technologies have to look at all modifications at once rather than specific ones.”

“This grant provides a unique opportunity to create the tools needed to study the mechanism that nature uses to select individual RNA sequences for modification. By understanding this process, it may be possible to interrupt certain modifications that are involved in specific disease-related pathways,” Chaput said.