A computational approach for the identification of distant homologs of bacterial riboswitches based on inverse RNA folding

Sumit Mukherjee, Matan Drory Retwitzer, Sara M. Hubbell, Michelle M. Meyer, Danny Barash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Riboswitches are conserved structural ribonucleic acid (RNA) sensors that are mainly found to regulate a large number of genes/operons in bacteria. Presently, >50 bacterial riboswitch classes have been discovered, but only the thiamine pyrophosphate riboswitch class is detected in a few eukaryotes like fungi, plants and algae. One of the most important challenges in riboswitch research is to discover existing riboswitch classes in eukaryotes and to understand the evolution of bacterial riboswitches. However, traditional search methods for riboswitch detection have failed to detect eukaryotic riboswitches besides just one class and any distant structural homologs of riboswitches. We developed a novel approach based on inverse RNA folding that attempts to find sequences that match the shape of the target structure with minimal sequence conservation based on key nucleotides that interact directly with the ligand. Then, to support our matched candidates, we expanded the results into a covariance model representing similar sequences preserving the structure. Our method transforms a structure-based search into a sequence-based search that considers the conservation of secondary structure shape and ligand-binding residues. This method enables us to identify a potential structural candidate in fungi that could be the distant homolog of bacterial purine riboswitches. Further, phylogenomic analysis and evolutionary distribution of this structural candidate indicate that the most likely point of origin of this structural candidate in these organisms is associated with the loss of traditional purine riboswitches. The computational approach could be applicable to other domains and problems in RNA research.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberbbad110
JournalBriefings in Bioinformatics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 May 2023


  • RNA structure
  • evolution
  • inverse RNA folding
  • ncRNAs
  • riboswitch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Molecular Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'A computational approach for the identification of distant homologs of bacterial riboswitches based on inverse RNA folding'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this