RNAs, short for ribonucleic acids, coordinate many biological processes inside cells. They are bound by RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) that perform a certain task on the RNAs. RBPs can help RNAs to mature, protect RNA molecules against destruction, modify the information carried in them, and control the production of proteins from RNA. In human cells, there are about two thousand different RBPs. Many of these proteins have only been recognised as RBPs recently, and the functions of hundreds remain unknown. The family of RNA viruses, which includes the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, carries their genetic information in the form of RNA molecules. When such an RNA virus infects a cell, its RNA-based genome requires cellular RBPs as host factors, taking over the cellular machinery to create more copies of itself and otherwise influence cellular functions.
The cellular proteins that bind to SARS-CoV-2’s RNA genome have not yet been identified. To assist researchers in finding out, EMBL scientists in the groups of Matthias Hentze and Wolfgang Huber have created the RBPbase database that includes nearly all eukaryotic RBPs known to date. RBPbase stores information on over 4000 proteins that have been identified as RBPs across multiple studies. The EMBL scientists hope that RBPbase will help researchers worldwide to identify candidate proteins in infected cells as coronavirus-interacting RBPs. This may lead to a better understanding of how coronavirus multiplies in cells, and enable the design of novel therapeutic strategies.