RNA analysis is a broad term referring to any of a variety of techniques involved in gathering data about a sequence of ribonucleic acid (RNA). Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) contains the genetic instructions that dictate almost every aspect of the appearance and behavior of the various parts of an organism. Parts of that DNA are transcribed into RNA, and strands of RNA are then translated into proteins, or functional chemical units that are directly or indirectly essential for most of the chemical and structural aspects of organisms. Some forms of RNA are not translated into proteins but are instead functional because of their own chemical properties. RNA analysis is usually intended to read the genetic code contained on a given RNA strand, but it may also be intended to uncover other structural or functional traits.
One of the most common and basic types of RNA analysis is sequence analysis. RNA is made up of four types of molecules known as nucleotides: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and uracil. Determining the sequence of nucleotides in such chains of RNA allows researchers to predict the structure of a resulting protein or to look for mutations in the sequence. Sequence analysis can also be used to predict the structures of RNA chains that are functional on their own and are not translated to proteins.
Another relatively common form of RNA analysis is structural analysis, which is aimed at determining the secondary structure of a given RNA chain. The functions of RNA chains that are not translated to proteins emerge from their three-dimensional structures, which are commonly referred to as secondary structures. Understanding the secondary structure of an RNA chain through structural RNA analysis can help researchers better understand the mechanisms through which the RNA chain functions. Structural RNA analysis can be conducted through computerized predictions based on RNA sequencing and through various experimental methods.
RNA can have variety of functions beyond coding for proteins or serving limited functions within an organism. Some of these functions are evident in certain types of viruses that have RNA genomes, meaning that all of their genetic information is stored as RNA. Such viruses invade host cells and replicate with the help of proteins that can be developed from the RNA genome. Other types of viruses use a process known as reverse transcription to make DNA from RNA. RNA analysis can allow researchers to determine, to an extent, how these viruses function and to devise possible ways to neutralize them.