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Structural and mechanistic studies of RNA-guided and RNA-targeting antiviral defense pathways (ANTIVIRNA)
Start date: Nov 1, 2013, End date: Oct 31, 2018 PROJECT  FINISHED 

"The evolutionary pressures exerted by viruses on their host cells constitute a major force that drives the evolution of cellular antiviral mechanisms. The proposed research is motivated by our interest in the roles of protein-RNA interactions in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic antiviral pathways and will proceed in two directions. The first project stems from our current work on the CRISPR pathway, a recently discovered RNA-guided adaptive defense mechanism in bacteria and archaea that silences mobile genetic elements such as viruses (bacteriophages) and plasmids. CRISPR systems rely on short RNAs (crRNAs) that associate with CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins and function as sequence-specific guides in the detection and destruction of invading nucleic acids. To obtain molecular insights into the mechanisms of crRNA-guided interference, we will pursue structural and functional studies of DNA-targeting ribonuceoprotein complexes from type II and III CRISPR systems. Our work will shed light on the function of these systems in microbial pathogenesis and provide a framework for the informed engineering of RNA-guided gene targeting technologies. The second proposed research direction centres on RNA-targeting antiviral strategies employed by the human innate immune system. Here, our work will focus on structural studies of major interferon-induced effector proteins, examining the allosteric activation mechanism of RNase L and the mechanism of the IFIT protein complex that specifically targets 5’-termini of viral RNAs. In our investigations, we plan to approach these questions using an integrated strategy combining structural biology, biochemistry and biophysics with cell-based functional studies. Together, our studies will provide fundamental molecular insights into RNA-centred antiviral mechanisms and their impact on human health and disease."

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