Enzyme structure reveals how DNA is opened up for transcription

January 10, 2019 by Katherine Fenz, Rockefeller University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

DNA is a molecular manual that contains instructions for building life. And, like any manual, DNA isn't all that useful if it remains unopened and unread. In order to transcribe DNA, the enzyme RNA polymerase, or RNAP, must pry open its two strands, a process known as "melting" or "unwinding." In a recent study, Rockefeller scientists elucidated key features of RNAP, shedding light on how DNA's gene-filled folios are read.

In the study, published in Nature, Elizabeth A. Campbell, Seth A. Darst, Hande Boyaci and their colleagues used to analyze the structure of RNAP in the process of melting DNA. They found that two distinct features of the enzyme—called fork-loop 2 and switch 2—are crucial regulators of this process: these components must change their positions in order for DNA to complete melting and be transcribed.

Though the researchers studied this phenomenon in bacteria, Campbell notes that fork-loop 2 and switch 2 are common to all domains of life, suggesting broad implications for their findings. "These two motifs are universally conserved, and we now know that they're involved with separating the two strands of DNA," she says. "So we think we've unlocked a universal mechanism of how DNA unwinds."

Explore further: Scientists provide new insight on how gene expression is controlled

More information: Hande Boyaci et al. Structures of an RNA polymerase promoter melting intermediate elucidate DNA unwinding, Nature (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0840-5

Related Stories

Molecular doorstop could be key to new tuberculosis drugs

March 13, 2018

Tuberculosis, which infects roughly one quarter of the world's population and kills nearly two million people a year, is not only deadly but ancient: signs of the disease have been found in Egyptian mummies. Despite its age, ...

Recommended for you

How our cellular antennas are formed

January 17, 2019

Most of our cells contain an immobile primary cilium, an antenna used to transfer information from the surrounding environment. Some cells also have many mobile cilia that are used to generate movement. The 'skeleton' of ...

Individual lichens can have up to three fungi, study shows

January 17, 2019

Individual lichens may contain up to three different fungi, according to new research from an international team of researchers. This evidence provides new insight into another recent discovery that showed lichen are made ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.