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Transcription Under Torsion

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Science  28 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6140, pp. 1580-1583
DOI: 10.1126/science.1235441

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Keeping Transcription Going

In cells, the DNA double-stranded helix (dsDNA) is mostly supercoiled—either under- or overwound. RNA polymerase (RNAP) must transcribe though this supercoiled DNA. Furthermore, the act of transcription, which involves opening the double helix and threading the separated strands through the enzyme, generates supercoiling ahead and behind the polymerase. Ma et al. (p. 1580) used single-molecule methods to measure the upstream and downstream torque forces of Escherichia coli RNAP. The upstream torque was sufficient to disrupt dsDNA structure, and the stalled RNAP could also backtrack along the DNA. Release of the torsional stress allowed RNAP to resume transcription in vitro.