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Structural and Computational Biology and Molecular Biophysics

Houston, Texas

A BCM research lab.
Structural and Computational Biology & Molecular Biophysics
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George E. Fox, Ph.D.

George E. Fox, Ph.D.Professor, Biology and Biochemistry

University of Houston


B.S., Chemical Engineering, Syracuse University
Ph.D., Chemical Engineering, Syracuse University
Postdoc, Univ of Illinois in the Dept. of Genetics & Development in the lab of Dr. Carl R. Woese

Research Interests:

Our laboratory is seeking to understand the early evolution of living systems and how a transition from a hypothetical RNA World to living life as we know it might have occurred. We are currently focusing our attention on two problems: (1) the origins of the cellular translation machinery and how it is historically related to other cellular information systems and (2) the extent to which the numerous non-coding RNAs and RNA structures found in mRNAs may or may not be remnants of the RNA World.

The question of origins is being addressed by a combination of approaches relying on both bioinformatics and structural ideas and methods. The key is to identify timing events which reveal the relative age of various molecules and interactions. For example, the order in which ribosomal proteins are assembled into the modern ribosome suggests a relative age for these proteins. Many proteins that have arrived late by this criterion have individual domains that have structural homologs in other systems. Those that have apparently evolved earlier in ribosome history, show evidence of internal duplications and in many cases may be progenitors of individual domains in newer ribosomal components. Connectivity between older regions of the ribosome is likely to be greater than between newer regions. Studies of hydrogen bonding interactions within the RNAs and between the RNAs address connectivity and have allowed us to identify regions of the RNA that are likely older than others.

In order to better understand the relationship between modern RNAs and a possible RNA World we are seeking to determine the phylogenetic distribution of various RNAs and RNA elements. Those that are widely distributed are likely older. The difficulty is that the distribution of these RNAs and RNA elements is not accurately known. We are therefore implementing published methods to find these RNAs and seeking to develop novel more powerful approaches based on structural principles. One aspect of our approach is to study the structure of key RNAs at atomic resolution using NMR This new structural information is used in combination with published data to refine our understanding of RNA structure. This in turn will allow us to develop new RNA search strategies based on the possible presence of RNA specific structural elements in candidate sequence regions. In analogy with work in the protein field, comparison of large scale RNA structures may also provide insight to historical relationships between various RNAs.

Selected Publications:

  • Petrov AS, Bernier CR, Hershkovits E, Xue Y, Waterbury CC, Hsiao C, Stepanov VG, Gaucher EA, Grover MA, Harvey SC, Hud NV, Wartell RM, Fox GE and Williams LD. Secondary structure and domain architecture of the 23S and 5S rRNAs. Nucleic Acids Res, [Epub ahead of print] (2013). PubMed
  • Zhao Q, Huang HC, Nagaswamy U, Xia Y, Gao X and Fox GE. UNAC tetraloops: to what extent do they mimic GNRA tetraloops? Biopolymers, 97(8):617-28 (2012). PubMed
  • Gijavanekar C, Drabek R, Soni M, Jackson GW, Strych U, Fox GE, Fofanov Y and Willson RC. Detection and typing of viruses using broadly sensitive cocktail-PCR and mass spectrometric cataloging: demonstration with dengue virus. J Mol Diagn, 14(4):402-7 (2012). PubMed
  • Fox GE, Tran Q and Yonath A. An exit cavity was crucial to the polymerase activity of the early ribosome. Astrobiology, 12(1):57-60 (2012). PubMed
  • Gijavanekar C, Strych U, Fofanov Y, Fox GE and Willson RC. Rare target enrichment for ultrasensitive PCR detection using cot-rehybridization and duplex-specific nuclease. Anal Biochem, 421(1):81-5 (2012). PubMed
  • Dasgupta I, Gao X and Fox GE. Structural properties of DNA oligomers containing (GACX) (n) and (GAXC) (n) tandem repeats. Biopolymers, 97(3):155-64 (2012). PubMed
  • Lu Q and Fox GE. Resurrection of an ancestral 5S rRNA. BMC Evol Biol, 11:218 (2011). PubMed

For more publications, see listing on PubMed.

Contact Information:

Department: Biology & Biochemistry
Address: University of Houston
Biol & Biochem, HSC Rm. 424
Houston, TX 77240-5001
Phone: 713-743-8363
Fax: 713-743-8351
Additional Links: University of Houston

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