Messenger RNA (mRNA) are RNA molecules that carry messages from DNA as part of gene expression. Discovered only in 2002, riboswitches appear to be an ancient and widespread class of mRNA elements. One particular riboswitch, the flavine mononucleotide (FMN)-activated riboswitch, is a promising target for antibiotics. This riboswitch is critical to the production of riboflavin (vitamin B2) in bacteria but not in humans. Activating the bacterial FMN riboswitch would shut down this biosynthetic pathway, preventing the growth of bacteria without affecting human health. Very likely, several other riboswitches are potential targets for novel small molecule drugs. These riboswitches and small molecules binding to them are yet to be discovered.
Searching for small molecules can be tedious and time-consuming. Virtual high throughput screening is both quicker and less costly than any experimental approaches. Profs. Jérôme Waldispühl and Nicolas Moitessier, both at McGill University, are developing the computational infrastructure and technology needed for genome-wide screening of riboswitch elements and the identification of novel small molecules that activate them.