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Sisyphean movement of motor proteins may help preserve DNA integrity

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Researchers studying how proteins called helicases travel along strands of DNA have found that when the proteins hit an obstacle they snap back to where they began, repeating the process over and over, possibly playing a preventative role in keeping the genome intact.

Taekjip Ha, a professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, likens the biological scenario to Boston Red Sox baseball; the team rolls along only to hit a late-season obstacle called the New York Yankees. Then, like the always-anticipated annual cry from Chicago Cubs fan, it's back to square one next year.

However, instead of causing more misery, as is the case for a baseball fan, this motor protein's starting over may serve a beneficial purpose, clearing other, undesired proteins from the DNA, Ha said. The research was done in vitro, using purified proteins and studied with a technique that visualizes individual molecules on DNA. Whether the scenario plays out in real cells in not known and under exploration.

The discovery appears in the Oct. 27 issue of the journal Nature, along with a separate "News & Views" article by Eckhard Jankowsky, a biochemist at the Center for RNA Molecular Biology in Case Western University's School of Medicine, who wrote about the potential importance of the findings.

Ha's postdoctoral fellow Sua Myong led the study, looking at the Rep helicase from an E-coli bacterium. Rep is known to be involved in restarting DNA replication stalled by DNA damage. As a single protein, a monomer, Rep can travel one way along a single strand of DNA but by itself cannot unzip it. Rep's progress was visualized using the single molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) technique that Ha had developed.

By tagging the protein and DNA with green and red dyes, Myong measured FRET changes as Rep traveled along single DNA strands, which are short segmen
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Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
jebarlow@uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
26-Oct-2005


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