When RNA is transcribed, the strand of genetic material is linear, yet not rigid. As proteins do, RNA can fold on itself and create secondary structure from the chemical attractions between nucleotides. Hydrogen bonds form between pairs of guanine/cytosine, adenine/uracil, and guanine/uracil, twisting the RNA like headphones left in one’s pocket for too long. The RNA similarly requires energy to unfold the strand, just with heat and without the kinked wires and endless frustration.
The secondary structure of these RNA strands can regulate translation, preventing or allowing ribosomes to bind to the RNA and translate the genetic material into protein. Applying adequate heat could potentially upregulate the expression of a gene, and the lack of heat could potentially down-regulate the same gene, reducing its expression. The UMass Dartmouth iGEM team aims to quantify levels of gene expression for RNA strands of varying structure at different temperatures.