What Is RNA Hybridization?

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  • Written By: Richard Nelson
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2019
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Ribonucleic acid (RNA) usually is found in a single string. In molecular biology, hybridization means combining two nucleic acids. RNA hybridization happens when one RNA strand combines, or hybridizes, with either another RNA strand or a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) strand. RNA hybridization uses special pathways that can help scientists improve biology. Cells use the process of RNA hybridization to survive, and molecular biologists use hybridization to develop new ways to fight disease and make medicines.

The process of RNA replication uses DNA to form the most common ribonucleic acid hybrids. DNA-RNA macromolecules are formed only briefly before the new RNA is released. This important process produces messenger RNA (mRNA). The mRNA will produce proteins with help or will produce other ribonucleic acids and macromolecules. Using this process, experiments are developed to explore the types of proteins each DNA-RNA hybridization is responsible for creating.

In special viruses, called retroviruses, RNA hybridization is used to infect the host cell. The process is used along with a special enzyme called reverse transcriptase. The virus injects copies of RNA into the cell along with the special enzyme. The enzyme uses macromolecules to form an RNA-DNA hybrid. Reverse transcriptase is used in experiments to help study the genetic information of retroviruses.


The structures of RNA hybrid complexes are important for cell signaling, or communication. In some retroviruses, RNA hybridization tells the reverse transcriptase to degrade the original RNA copy. The cell would recognize the RNA invader and would protect against it, but it is quickly degraded to avoid this. No other process occurs, so the shape and size of the RNA-DNA hybrid must signal the reverse transcriptase to start the new process of destroying the evidence.

Many laboratory experiments use special RNA that glow, called labels, to help display where RNA hybridization is taking place. On-site hybridization, or in situ hybridization, is often used to see where certain macromolecules reside inside a tissue. This process uses higher temperatures to loosen DNA, which causes RNA hybridization with injected labels. Quickly cooling the tissue lets scientists use labels to find tissue parts. The data can lead to new strategies for fighting disease at the molecular level.

The original formation of RNA hybrids occurred in 1960 and was first conducted before scientists knew the different kinds of RNA. The genetic information was known to be transferred from DNA to RNA, but forming a DNA-RNA hybrid was not understood. The experiments did show the first DNA-RNA hybrids, which also proved that DNA was used to make the RNA with the help of an enzyme called RNA polymerase.


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