What Is Ribosomal RNA Sequencing?

Jessica Susan Reuter

Ribosomal ribonucleic acid (RNA) sequencing is the process of determining the sequence content of the nucleic acids that make up the ribosome. In nearly all cells, ribosomes are macromolecules that build proteins to keep the cell running. They are made up of RNA and a variety of proteins that help the RNA work more efficiently. Much of this material in a ribosome is directly involved in protein building, so determining ribosomal RNA sequencing can give insights on the final structure of the molecule, as well as how it works. The function and general structure of the RNA is well conserved between a variety of species, but the raw sequence is not, and changes in the sequence can be used to infer information about the ribosome's evolution.

Ribosomes are macromolecules that build proteins.
Ribosomes are macromolecules that build proteins.

Whether used for bacterial ribosomes or those of more complex organisms, ribosomal RNA sequencing is accomplished in a similar way. Once the RNA is separated from the ribosome, it is duplicated many times, then broken apart into small fragments whose sequences can be easily identified. Those small sequence pieces are then reassembled in order to generate the newly determined sequence. The task becomes more complicated as a sequence gets longer, but the process is still relatively easy for ribosomal RNA, which is comparatively small. There is no guarantee that a first attempt at ribosomal RNA sequencing will be correct the first time, so multiple attempts to verify the data quality are usually performed.

RNA sequencing is the process of determining the content of nucleic acids that make up the ribosome.
RNA sequencing is the process of determining the content of nucleic acids that make up the ribosome.

The data obtained from ribosomal RNA sequencing can be used for a variety of purposes, but one of the most common is for bacterial identification. Bacterial ribosomal RNA in particular is highly conserved between species, so sequencing allows the unique characteristics of a species to be consolidated into a profile for reference. This profile can be used to quickly and easily identify a specific type of bacteria, a test which can aid in the diagnosis and treatment of the sick. With the advent of better sequencing technology, this approach has become more common in diagnoses.

A second impact ribosomal RNA sequencing can have on human health is in aiding the design of drugs and medicines. Bacterial ribosomal RNA sequences have many subsequences that are unique to bacteria, so targeting these regions with antimicrobial medicines can kill bacteria without being detrimental to humans. Ribosomal RNA sequencing data on its own doesn't provide enough data to create medicines, but it gives scientists regions to focus on for future study and drug design. Medicinal molecules can be engineered that attach to the sequences and disable the ribosome. A variety of current medicines use this technique to fight disease.

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