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Biologists learn structure of enzyme needed to power 'molecular motor'

se enzyme breaks down a biological compound called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, turning it into adenosine diphosphate, or ADP. Specifically, the enzyme breaks a bond between a chemical group called a phosphate and the ADP.

The researchers determined the structure of the particular ATPase used to break the high-energy bond that links the phosphate to ADP. This release of energy is used to run the molecular motor in the T4 virus.

The virus consists of a head and tail portion. The DNA-packaging motor is located in the same place where the tail eventually connects to the head. The motor falls off after the packaging step is completed, allowing the tail to attach to the capsid.

DNA is made of four different kinds of "nucleotides" identified by a specific "base." The bases are paired together to form the rungs of a ladderlike, double-stranded helical structure. Because there is a negative charge associated with each nucleotide, they repel each other when compressed together, creating a pressure inside the confining space of the capsid. A motor is needed to counteract this pressure, in effect pumping the DNA into the head.

The authors of the research paper have proposed a mechanism for how the motor works by comparing its structure to those of other, similar enzymes called helicases. The helicases are needed to separate double-stranded DNA into single strands during gene replication, a fundamental process of life required to pass on genetic information from one generation to another.

Helicases alternatively bind to and release their grip on DNA during replication, progressively moving along the helix to separate the strands in a motion similar to an inchworm's movement. The authors proposed that the motor uses a similar inchworm mechanism to package the DNA into the virus.

"While the helicases use the mechanism to unwind double-stranded DNA, this ATPase uses the mechanism to pump genetic material into the virus
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Contact: Emil Venere
venere@purdue.edu
765-494-4709
Purdue University
22-Mar-2007


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