skip to main content

Title: RNAcentral 2021: secondary structure integration, improved sequence search and new member databases
Abstract RNAcentral is a comprehensive database of non-coding RNA (ncRNA) sequences that provides a single access point to 44 RNA resources and >18 million ncRNA sequences from a wide range of organisms and RNA types. RNAcentral now also includes secondary (2D) structure information for >13 million sequences, making RNAcentral the world’s largest RNA 2D structure database. The 2D diagrams are displayed using R2DT, a new 2D structure visualization method that uses consistent, reproducible and recognizable layouts for related RNAs. The sequence similarity search has been updated with a faster interface featuring facets for filtering search results by RNA type, organism, source database or any keyword. This sequence search tool is available as a reusable web component, and has been integrated into several RNAcentral member databases, including Rfam, miRBase and snoDB. To allow for a more fine-grained assignment of RNA types and subtypes, all RNAcentral sequences have been annotated with Sequence Ontology terms. The RNAcentral database continues to grow and provide a central data resource for the RNA community. RNAcentral is freely available at  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; more » ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; « less
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Nucleic Acids Research
Page Range / eLocation ID:
D212 to D220
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Recently non-coding RNA (ncRNA) genes have been found to serve many important functions in the cell such as regulation of gene expression at the transcriptional level. Potentially there are more ncRNA molecules yet to be found and their possible functions are to be revealed. The discovery of ncRNAs is a difficult task because they lack sequence indicators such as the start and stop codons displayed by protein-coding RNAs. Current methods utilize either sequence motifs or structural parameters to detect novel ncRNAs within genomes. Here, we present an ab initio ncRNA finder, named ncRNAscout, by utilizing both sequence motifs and structural parameters. Specifically, our method has three components: (i) a measure of the frequency of a sequence, (ii) a measure of the structural stability of a sequence contained in a t-score, and (iii) a measure of the frequency of certain patterns within a sequence that may indicate the presence of ncRNA. Experimental results show that, given a genome and a set of known ncRNAs, our method is able to accurately identify and locate a significant number of ncRNA sequences in the genome. The ncRNAscout tool is available for downloading at

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    While RNA secondary structure prediction from sequence data has made remarkable progress, there is a need for improved strategies for annotating the features of RNA secondary structures. Here, we present bpRNA, a novel annotation tool capable of parsing RNA structures, including complex pseudoknot-containing RNAs, to yield an objective, precise, compact, unambiguous, easily-interpretable description of all loops, stems, and pseudoknots, along with the positions, sequence, and flanking base pairs of each such structural feature. We also introduce several new informative representations of RNA structure types to improve structure visualization and interpretation. We have further used bpRNA to generate a web-accessible meta-database, ‘bpRNA-1m’, of over 100 000 single-molecule, known secondary structures; this is both more fully and accurately annotated and over 20-times larger than existing databases. We use a subset of the database with highly similar (≥90% identical) sequences filtered out to report on statistical trends in sequence, flanking base pairs, and length. Both the bpRNA method and the bpRNA-1m database will be valuable resources both for specific analysis of individual RNA molecules and large-scale analyses such as are useful for updating RNA energy parameters for computational thermodynamic predictions, improving machine learning models for structure prediction, and for benchmarking structure-prediction algorithms.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract Motivation

    RNA design is the search for a sequence or set of sequences that will fold to desired structure, also known as the inverse problem of RNA folding. However, the sequences designed by existing algorithms often suffer from low ensemble stability, which worsens for long sequence design. Additionally, for many methods only a small number of sequences satisfying the MFE criterion can be found by each run of design. These drawbacks limit their use cases.


    We propose an innovative optimization paradigm, SAMFEO, which optimizes ensemble objectives (equilibrium probability or ensemble defect) by iterative search and yields a very large number of successfully designed RNA sequences as byproducts. We develop a search method which leverages structure level and ensemble level information at different stages of the optimization: initialization, sampling, mutation, and updating. Our work, while being less complicated than others, is the first algorithm that is able to design thousands of RNA sequences for the puzzles from the Eterna100 benchmark. In addition, our algorithm solves the most Eterna100 puzzles among all the general optimization based methods in our study. The only baseline solving more puzzles than our work is dependent on handcrafted heuristics designed for a specific folding model. Surprisingly, our approach shows superiority on designing long sequences for structures adapted from the database of 16S Ribosomal RNAs.

    Availability and implementation

    Our source code and data used in this article is available at

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Riboswitches are conserved structural ribonucleic acid (RNA) sensors that are mainly found to regulate a large number of genes/operons in bacteria. Presently, >50 bacterial riboswitch classes have been discovered, but only the thiamine pyrophosphate riboswitch class is detected in a few eukaryotes like fungi, plants and algae. One of the most important challenges in riboswitch research is to discover existing riboswitch classes in eukaryotes and to understand the evolution of bacterial riboswitches. However, traditional search methods for riboswitch detection have failed to detect eukaryotic riboswitches besides just one class and any distant structural homologs of riboswitches. We developed a novel approach based on inverse RNA folding that attempts to find sequences that match the shape of the target structure with minimal sequence conservation based on key nucleotides that interact directly with the ligand. Then, to support our matched candidates, we expanded the results into a covariance model representing similar sequences preserving the structure. Our method transforms a structure-based search into a sequence-based search that considers the conservation of secondary structure shape and ligand-binding residues. This method enables us to identify a potential structural candidate in fungi that could be the distant homolog of bacterial purine riboswitches. Further, phylogenomic analysis and evolutionary distribution of this structural candidate indicate that the most likely point of origin of this structural candidate in these organisms is associated with the loss of traditional purine riboswitches. The computational approach could be applicable to other domains and problems in RNA research.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract Motivation

    Predicting the secondary structure of an ribonucleic acid (RNA) sequence is useful in many applications. Existing algorithms [based on dynamic programming] suffer from a major limitation: their runtimes scale cubically with the RNA length, and this slowness limits their use in genome-wide applications.


    We present a novel alternative O(n3)-time dynamic programming algorithm for RNA folding that is amenable to heuristics that make it run in O(n) time and O(n) space, while producing a high-quality approximation to the optimal solution. Inspired by incremental parsing for context-free grammars in computational linguistics, our alternative dynamic programming algorithm scans the sequence in a left-to-right (5′-to-3′) direction rather than in a bottom-up fashion, which allows us to employ the effective beam pruning heuristic. Our work, though inexact, is the first RNA folding algorithm to achieve linear runtime (and linear space) without imposing constraints on the output structure. Surprisingly, our approximate search results in even higher overall accuracy on a diverse database of sequences with known structures. More interestingly, it leads to significantly more accurate predictions on the longest sequence families in that database (16S and 23S Ribosomal RNAs), as well as improved accuracies for long-range base pairs (500+ nucleotides apart), both of which are well known to be challenging for the current models.

    Availability and implementation

    Our source code is available at, and our webserver is at (sequence limit: 100 000nt).

    Supplementary information

    Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

    more » « less