In the world of molecules, DNA tends to get top billing at the expense of RNA, which is critical for turning DNAs genetic blueprint into working proteins. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have published significant insights into how the RNA molecule completes this task in two back-to-back papers in the Feb. 13 issue of Science.
All the genetic information contained in DNA is silent, said Roger Kornberg, PhD, the Mrs. George A. Wizner Professor in Medicine and professor of structural biology. What gives it a voice is RNA polymerase, the enzyme that copies DNA into RNA through a process called transcription. Along with more than a dozen helper molecules, RNA polymerase determines which proteins are produced within a cell. But before scientists can understand the transcription process, they must first unveil the inner structure of RNA polymerase.
Kornbergs lab has been studying RNA and the enzyme that makes it for more than 20 years. Past studies from the lab have shown that the machinery of the RNA polymerase system is in three layers. Kornbergs group published groundbreaking findings in 2001 outlining the structure of the innermost layer. The two current papers focus on the middle layer, which contains many of the helper molecules.
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