About Student Research

Estefania Mondragon (2011–2015)

New research tools built from RNA and DNA

A native of Oaxaca, Mexico, Estefania Mondragon was first exposed to the exploding world of small RNA molecules during her undergraduate research training in structural biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Estefania's interests in RNA structure and function remain even as she has broadened her curiosity into the field of neurobiology at Mayo Graduate School.

In the Maher lab, Estefania takes on the challenging goal of finding new short RNA and DNA molecules that fold into exotic shapes to create new research tools, maybe even new drugs. Termed "aptamers," such molecules are identified by repeated rounds of affinity selection and amplification from vast sequence "libraries." The molecular diversity of these initial nucleic acid combinatorial libraries far exceeds the diversity of the human immune system.

In one project, Estefania is exploiting restriction endonucleases, DNA binding proteins with extreme sequence specificity, to find small RNAs that mimic double-stranded DNA and inhibit these proteins. Lessons learned from these RNAs may help rational design of RNA aptamers against other DNA binding proteins. In a second project, the Maher lab's previous work to find RNA aptamers that inhibit human transcription factor NF-kappaB will be extended.

Estefania has also been working collaboratively in the lab of Jussi Taipale at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm Sweden to develop new high-throughput approaches to simultaneously select inhibitory RNA aptamers against dozens of DNA binding human transcription factors. Such RNAs could be tools for research or therapy, and their sequences and structures may reveal general principles for DNA mimicry by RNA.