Engineering of a superhelicase through conformational control

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  17 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6232, pp. 344-347
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa0445

Engineering superenzyme function

Understanding how protein domains and subunits operate is critical for engineering novel functions into proteins. Arslan et al. introduced intramolecular crosslinks between two domains of the Escherichia coli helicase Rep, which unwinds DNA. By inserting linkers of different lengths, the domains can be held either “open” or “closed.” The closed conformation activates the helicase, but it can also generate super-helicases capable of unzipping long stretches of DNA at high speed and with considerable force. Comstock et al. used optical tweezers and fluorescence microscopy to simultaneously measure the structure and function of the bacterial helicase UvrD. They monitored its DNA winding and unwinding activity and its shape during these activities. The motor domain also has a “closed” conformation during DNA unwinding and switches to a reversed “open” conformation during the zipping-up interaction.

Science, this issue p. 344 and p. 352


Conformational control of biomolecular activities can reveal functional insights and enable the engineering of novel activities. Here we show that conformational control through intramolecular cross-linking of a helicase monomer with undetectable unwinding activity converts it into a superhelicase that can unwind thousands of base pairs processively, even against a large opposing force. A natural partner that enhances the helicase activity is shown to achieve its stimulating role also by selectively stabilizing the active conformation. Our work provides insight into the regulation of nucleic acid unwinding activity and introduces a monomeric superhelicase without nuclease activities, which may be useful for biotechnological applications.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science