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.
A helicase (blue) moves rapidly on a highly flexible DNA track. Such movement may prevent the accumulation of toxic proteins on the DNA. Graphic courtesy Taekjip Ha
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, its back to square one next year.
However, instead of causing more misery, as is the case for a baseball fan, this motor proteins 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.
Jim Barlow | EurekAlert!
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