Advanced biology course, or willingness to read up on such topics extensively.
A computer with Internet access is necessary for this project.
Very Low (under $20)
*Note: This is an abbreviated Project Idea, without notes to start your background research, a specific list of materials, or a procedure for how to do the experiment. You can identify abbreviated Project Ideas by the asterisk at the end of the title. If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk.
Some sequences of RNA can catalyze biochemical reactions, much like protein enzymes. These catalytic RNA sequences are called ribozymes. The function of a ribozyme depends upon the primary sequence of the RNA which folds into a 3-D structure. How do different ribozyme sequences fold? You can search for ribozyme sequences using Entrez BLAST (NCBI, 2006). Then you can use a program like MFOLD (http://bioweb.pasteur.fr/seqanal/interfaces/mfold-simple.html) to submit your sequence for an analysis of its predicted 3-D structures based upon thermodynamics (Zuker, 2006; Zuker, 2003). Compare the different predicted structures and see if they are similar or different. If possible, compare the predicted structures to a published crystal structure. How close was the predicted structure to the crystal structure? Can you identify primary sequence elements in your molecule that contribute to parts of the structure? For example, palindromic stretches can form stem-loop structures. You can also mutate the sequence and submit the new sequence to MFOLD. How does this alter the 3-D structure? Can you use this computational method to identify potentially important nucleotides?
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If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:
The human body can be viewed as a machine made up of complex processes. Scientists are working on figuring out how these processes work and on sequencing and correlating the sections of the genome that correspond to the individual processes. (The genome is an organism's complete set of genetic material.) In the course of doing so, they generate large amounts of data. So large, in fact, that to make sense of it, the data must be organized into databases and labeled. This is where bioinformatics scientists step in. They design databases and develop algorithms for processing and analyzing genomic and other biological information. These scientists work at the crossroads of biology and computer science.
Growing, aging, digesting—all of these are examples of chemical processes performed by living organisms. Biochemists study how these types of chemical actions happen in cells and tissues, and monitor what effects new substances, like food additives and medicines, have on living organisms.
Life is all around you in beauty, abundance, and complexity. Biologists are the scientists who study life in all its forms and try to understand fundamental life processes, and how life relates to its environment. They answer basic questions, like how do fireflies create light? Why do grunion fish lay their eggs based on the moon and tides? What genes control deafness? Why don't cancer cells die? How do plants respond to ultraviolet light? Beyond basic research, biologists might also apply their research and create new biotechnology. There are endless discoveries waiting to be found in the field of biology!
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