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Motif discovery is the problem of finding recurring patterns in biological data. Patterns can be sequential, mainly when discovered in DNA sequences. They can also be structural (e.g. when discovering RNA motifs). Finding common structural patterns helps to gain a better understanding of the mechanism of action (e.g. post-transcriptional regulation). Unlike DNA motifs, which are sequentially conserved, RNA motifs exhibit conservation in structure, which may be common even if the sequences are different.
(Badr et al., 2013) Classification and assessment tools for structural motif discovery algorithms. BMC Bioinformatics.