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Cells Can Read Damaged DNA Without Missing a Beat

Scientists have shown that cells' DNA-reading machinery can skim through certain kinds of damaged DNA without skipping any letters in the genetic "text." The studies, performed in bacteria, suggest a new mechanism that can allow bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotics.

The results were published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The senior author is Paul Doetsch, PhD, professor of biochemistry and radiation oncology at Emory University School of Medicine and associate director for basic research at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

Working with Doetsch, graduate student Cheryl Clauson examined the ability of RNA polymerase (the enzyme that transcribes, or makes RNA from DNA) to handle damaged DNA templates.

RNA polymerase reads one strand of the double helix and assembles RNA that is complementary to that strand. In test tube experiments, when the enzyme comes to a gap or a blank space, it keeps reading but leaves out letters across from the damaged stretch. In contrast, in cells, RNA polymerase puts a random letter (preferring A) across from the gap.
 
 

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