Advances in aptamer evolution and engineering
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] Aptamers are single-stranded nucleic acids that fold into unique three-dimensional shapes that allow them to bind with high affinity and specificity to targets of interest. They are selected through the process of in vitro evolution, wherein large libraries of randomized sequence are iteratively partitioned and amplified to enrich for high-fitness, functional molecules. Selected libraries are sequenced and individual aptamers are characterized for their structure and function. Aptamers have found use as research tools, diagnostics, and therapeutics and in the control of biological systems. The work described herein presents several advancements to the selection and application of aptamers. I first describe an aptamer bioinformatics platform, FASTAptamer, which performs the primary sequence tasks common to all combinatorial selection techniques. I then describe a poly-target selection approach that leverages high-throughput sequencing, the aptamer bioinformatics platform, and parallel selections against a family of related targets to identify the first RNA aptamers capable of potent broad-spectrum inhibition of HIV reverse transcriptase. Finally, this work describes the engineering and in vitro validation of a bifurcated aptamer, Split-Broccoli, for direct visualization of RNA:RNA processes.
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