Transcription Against an Applied Force

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Science  08 Dec 1995:
Vol. 270, Issue 5242, pp. 1653-1657
DOI: 10.1126/science.270.5242.1653


The force produced by a single molecule of Escherichia coli RNA polymerase during transcription was measured optically. Polymerase immobilized on a surface was used to transcribe a DNA template attached to a polystyrene bead 0.5 micrometer in diameter. The bead position was measured by interferometry while a force opposing translocation of the polymerase along the DNA was applied with an optical trap. At saturating nucleoside triphosphate concentrations, polymerase molecules stalled reversibly at a mean applied force estimated to be 14 piconewtons. This force is substantially larger than those measured for the cytoskeletal motors kinesin and myosin and exceeds mechanical loads that are estimated to oppose transcriptional elongation in vivo. The data are consistent with efficient conversion of the free energy liberated by RNA synthesis into mechanical work.