The statistical mechanics of heteropolymer structure formation is studied in the context of RNA secondary structures. A designed RNA sequence biased energetically towards a particular native structure (a hairpin) is used to study the transition between the native and molten phase of the RNA as a function of temperature. The transition is driven by a competition between the energy gained from the polymer's overlap with the native structure and the entropic gain of forming random contacts. A simplified Go¯-like model is proposed and solved exactly. The predicted critical behavior is verified via exact numerical enumeration of a large ensemble of similarly designed sequences.
- Received 5 March 1999
- Published in the issue dated 16 August 1999
© 1999 The American Physical Society