Availability of high-resolution RNA crystal structures for the 30S and 50S ribosomal subunits and the subsequent validation of comparative secondary structure models have prompted the biologists to use three-dimensional structure of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) for evaluating sequence alignments of rRNA genes. Furthermore, the secondary and tertiary structural features of rRNA are highly useful and successfully employed in designing rRNA targeted oligonucleotide probes intended for in situ hybridization experiments. RNA3D, a program to combine sequence alignment information with three-dimensional structure of rRNA was developed. Integration into ARB software package, which is used extensively by the scientific community for phylogenetic analysis and molecular probe designing, has substantially extended the functionality of ARB software suite with 3D environment.
Three-dimensional structure of rRNA is visualized in OpenGL 3D environment with the abilities to change the display and overlay information onto the molecule, dynamically. Phylogenetic information derived from the multiple sequence alignments can be overlaid onto the molecule structure in a real time. Superimposition of both statistical and non-statistical sequence associated information onto the rRNA 3D structure can be done using customizable color scheme, which is also applied to a textual sequence alignment for reference. Oligonucleotide probes designed by ARB probe design tools can be mapped onto the 3D structure along with the probe accessibility models for evaluation with respect to secondary and tertiary structural conformations of rRNA.
Visualization of three-dimensional structure of rRNA in an intuitive display provides the biologists with the greater possibilities to carry out structure based phylogenetic analysis. Coupled with secondary structure models of rRNA, RNA3D program aids in validating the sequence alignments of rRNA genes and evaluating probe target sites. Superimposition of the information derived from the multiple sequence alignment onto the molecule dynamically allows the researchers to observe any sequence inherited characteristics (phylogenetic information) in real-time environment. The extended ARB software package is made freely available for the scientific community via http://www.arb-home.de.