Scientists discover enzymes capable of duplicating damaged genetic material (DNA) and creating new mutations

New York, NY--November 6, 2000--Genetic material (DNA) is damaged on a daily basis due to environmental factors, such as solar radiation and exposure to certain hazardous materials, as well as natural cell processes. This damage can leave chaos in its wake, scrambling or deleting the genetic letters encoding an organisms traits. If left unchecked, the mutated DNA will continue to replicate, and may cause impaired protein production and disease.

Fortunately, all organisms employ various cellular DNA repair systems. In most cases, however, they perform on an "all or nothing" basis: when unable to precisely correct the damage they stop operating, halting genetic replication entirely. The end result, even more severe than the initial damage, is that of cell death.

The key to life is therefore the cell's ability to "compromise, allowing DNA repair systems to operate with a certain "sloppiness" that permits a small number of mutations. While this may pose a certain risk, it also ensures the cells continued existence. Equally important, it increases genetic diversity allowing natural selection, the driving force behind evolution, to come into play. Prof. Zvi Livneh of the Weizmann Institutes Biological Chemistry Department has discovered a group of enzymes that perform one such mechanism. His latest findings are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS USA).

Genetic material is constantly duplicated as an integral part of cell division and reproduction occurring in all living beings. In dividing, the cell unzips the DNA double helix (consisting of two winding strands linked together by matching base pairs) using each strand as a template to direct the formation of its companion strand. Overseeing this process is a unique enzyme known as DNA polymerase, that "rides" on board the existing strand much like a train on a single track, reading its genetic sequence to form a matching strand. The result, generally ac

Contact: Jeffrey Sussman
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science

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