New research has identified and described a cellular process that, despite what textbooks say, has remained elusive to scientists until now — precisely how the copying of genetic material that, once started, is properly turned off.
The finding concerns a key process essential to life: the transcription phase of gene expression, which enables cells to live and do their jobs.
During transcription, an enzyme called RNA polymerase wraps itself around the double helix of DNA, using one strand to match nucleotides to make a copy of genetic material — resulting in a newly synthesized strand of RNA that breaks off when transcription is complete. That RNA enables production of proteins, which are essential to all life and perform most of the work inside cells.
Just as with any coherent message, RNA needs to start and stop in the right place to make sense. A bacterial protein called Rho was discovered more than 50 years ago because of its ability to stop, or terminate, transcription. In every textbook, Rho is used as a model terminator that, using its very strong motor force, binds to the RNA and pulls it out of RNA polymerase. But a closer look by these scientists showed that Rho wouldn’t be able to find the RNAs it needs to release using the textbook mechanism.