Transient RNA structure features are evolutionarily conserved and can be computationally predicted

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Functional RNA structures tend to be conserved during evolution. This finding is, for example, exploited by comparative methods for RNA secondary structure prediction that currently provide the state-of-art in terms of prediction accuracy. We here provide strong evidence that homologous RNA genes not only fold into similar final RNA structures, but that their folding pathways also share common transient structural features that have been evolutionarily conserved. For this, we compile and investigate a non-redundant data set of 32 sequences with known transient and final RNA secondary structures and devise a dedicated computational analysis pipeline.

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