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Nucleic Acids Res. 2019 Aug 31. pii: gkz737. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkz737. [Epub ahead of print]

Novel ribozymes: discovery, catalytic mechanisms, and the quest to understand biological function.

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Institute for Biochemistry, Leipzig University, Brüderstraße 34, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.
Bioinformatics Group, Department of Computer Science and Interdisciplinary Centre for Bioinformatics, Leipzig University, Härtelstraße 16-18, 04107 Leipzig, Germany.
Ribogenetics & Biochemistry, Department of Life Sciences and Chemistry, Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH, Campus Ring 1, 28759 Bremen, Germany.


Small endonucleolytic ribozymes promote the self-cleavage of their own phosphodiester backbone at a specific linkage. The structures of and the reactions catalysed by members of individual families have been studied in great detail in the past decades. In recent years, bioinformatics studies have uncovered a considerable number of new examples of known catalytic RNA motifs. Importantly, entirely novel ribozyme classes were also discovered, for most of which both structural and biochemical information became rapidly available. However, for the majority of the new ribozymes, which are found in the genomes of a variety of species, a biological function remains elusive. Here, we concentrate on the different approaches to find catalytic RNA motifs in sequence databases. We summarize the emerging principles of RNA catalysis as observed for small endonucleolytic ribozymes. Finally, we address the biological functions of those ribozymes, where relevant information is available and common themes on their cellular activities are emerging. We conclude by speculating on the possibility that the identification and characterization of proteins that we hypothesize to be endogenously associated with catalytic RNA might help in answering the ever-present question of the biological function of the growing number of genomically encoded, small endonucleolytic ribozymes.


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