The Program


The script can be used to design bi-stable structures, i.e. structures with two almost equally good foldings. For two given structures there are always a lot of sequences compatible with both structures. If both structures are reasonably stable you can find sequences where both target structures have almost equal energy and all other structures have much higher energies. Combined with RNAsubopt, barriers and treekin, this is a very useful tool for designing RNA switches.

The input requires two structures in dot-bracket notation and additionally you can add a sequence. It is also possible to calculate the switching function at two different temperatures with option -T and -T2.

Designing a Switch

Now we try to create an RNA switch using [Flamm et al., 2001]. First we create our inputfile, then invoke the program using ten optimization runs (-n 10) and do not allow lonely pairs. Write it out to switch.out

$ cat >

$ -n 10 --noLP < > switch.out

switch.out should look similar like this, the first block represents our bi-stable structures in random order, the second block shows the resulting sequences ordered by their score.

$ cat switch.out

the resulting sequences are:


Given all 10 suggestions in our switch.out, we select the one with the best score with some command line tools to use it as an RNAsubopt input file and build up the barriers tree.

$ tail -10 switch.out | awk '{print($1)}'  | head -n 1 >
$ RNAsubopt --noLP -s -e 25 < > subopt.out
$ barriers -G RNA-noLP --bsize --rates --minh 2 --max 30 < subopt.out > barriers.out

tail -10 cuts the last 10 lines from the switch.out file and pipes them into an awk script. The function print($1) echoes only the first column and this is piped into the head program where the first line, which equals the best scored sequence, is taken and written into Then RNAsubopt is called to process our sequence and write the output to another file which is the input for the barriers calculation.

Below you find an example of the barrier tree calculation above done with the right settings (connected root) on the left side and the wrong RNAsubobt -e value on the right. Keep in mind that performs a stochastic search and the output sequences are different every time because there are a lot of sequences which fit the structure and switch calculates a new one everytime. Simply try to make sure.

bt1 bt2

left: Barriers tree as it should look like, all branches connected to the main root right: disconnected tree due to a too low energy range (-e) parameter set in RNAsubopt.

Be careful to set the range -e high enough, otherwise we get a problem when calculation the kinetics using treekin. Every branch should be somehow connected to the main root of the tree. Try -e 20 and -e 30 to see the difference in the trees and choose the optimal value. By using --max 30 we shorten our tree to focus only on the lowest minima.

We then select a branch preferably outside of the two main branches, here branch 30 (may differ from your own calculation). Look at the barrier tree to find the best branch to start and replace 30 by the branch you would choose. Now use treekin to plot concentration kinetics and think about the graph you just created.

$ treekin -m I --p0 30=1  < barriers.out > treekin.out
$ xmgrace -log x -nxy treekin.out

The graph could look like the one below, remember everytime you use it can give you different sequences so the output varies too. Here the one from the example.