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Basic work on E. coli identifies two new keys to regulation of bacterial gene expression

The cellular process of transcription, in which the enzyme RNA polymerase constructs chains of RNA from information contained in DNA, depends upon previously underappreciated sections of both the DNA promoter region and RNA polymerase, according to work done with the bacterium E. coli and published today (June 16) in the journal Cell by a team of bacteriologists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This fundamental research about a key step in RNA synthesis has important implications for the study of gene expression in other organisms, and adds to the wealth of knowledge about E. coli contributed by scientists from the UW-Madison.

"The kinds of processes that we study in E. coli happen in a wide variety of bacteria of medical, environmental and agricultural importance," notes Rick Gourse, a professor of bacteriology who published the Cell paper along with a team from his lab. "This knowledge can ultimately be put to use in systems that aren't so amenable to investigation, such as bacteria that cause cholera, produce anthrax toxin or lead to ulcers and stomach cancer."

Scientists use model organisms because they are relatively easy to work with and because there is a vast amount of previous knowledge about them. They can then test whether their findings in model organisms hold true in other species, says Gourse, who studies a strain of E. coli that while harmless, is closely related to disease-causing varieties like E. coli 0157:H7.

"Basic research in E. coli is very important," says Gourse. "Much of what we know about gene expression both in bacteria and in higher life forms comes from work performed originally on this model organism." The strain that Gourse works with is one of the most well-studied species in biology and has important ties to the UW-Madison.

In his most recent study, Gourse investigated the interaction between RNA polymerase and promoters from the E. coli chromosome. RNA polymerase reads the informat
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Source:University of Wisconsin-Madison


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