RNA and RNP as Building Blocks for Nanotechnology and Synthetic Biology

Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci. 2016;139:165-85. doi: 10.1016/bs.pmbts.2015.12.004. Epub 2016 Feb 8.


Recent technologies that aimed to elucidate cellular function have revealed essential roles for RNA molecules in living systems. Our knowledge concerning functional and structural information of naturally occurring RNA and RNA-protein (RNP) complexes is increasing rapidly. RNA and RNP interaction motifs are structural units that function as building blocks to constitute variety of complex structures. RNA-central synthetic biology and nanotechnology are constructive approaches that employ the accumulated information and build synthetic RNA (RNP)-based circuits and nanostructures. Here, we describe how to design and construct synthetic RNA (RNP)-based devices and structures at the nanometer-scale for biological and future therapeutic applications. RNA/RNP nanostructures can also be utilized as the molecular scaffold to control the localization or interactions of target molecule(s). Moreover, RNA motifs recognized by RNA-binding proteins can be applied to make protein-responsive translational "switches" that can turn gene expression "on" or "off" depending on the intracellular environment. This "synthetic RNA and RNP world" will expand tools for nanotechnology and synthetic biology. In addition, these reconstructive approaches would lead to a greater understanding of building principle in naturally occurring RNA/RNP molecules and systems.

Keywords: RNA scaffold; RNA structural motif; RNA switch; RNA–protein interaction; RNP; miRNA; molecular design; nanostructures; synthetic biology; translation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Nanostructures / chemistry
  • Nanotechnology / methods*
  • Nucleotide Motifs
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • RNA / metabolism*
  • Ribonucleoproteins / metabolism*
  • Synthetic Biology / methods*


  • Proteins
  • Ribonucleoproteins
  • RNA