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NIEHS Researchers Identify Enzyme Critical in DNA Replication

f the lagging strand by a different polymerase.

In lower organisms like the E. coli bacteria that Kornberg studied, one DNA polymerase can accomplish both tasks. However, humans and related higher organisms, such as bakers yeast, are much more complicated. Recent discoveries, several of which emerged from the human genome project, indicate that the human genome encodes at least 15 DNA polymerases that can copy DNA. Several of these are thought to perform genomic replication, while others operate under special circumstances, such as the repair of DNA damage resulting from environmental exposures.

Amazingly, more than a half century after Watson and Crick first described the DNA double helix, it had remained unclear which of these many DNA polymerases in higher organisms is actually responsible for first replicating the leading strand during nuclear genome duplication, said Kunkel, author and Chief, Laboratory of Structural Biology at NIEHS.

Kunkel explained that the general strategy used in the study can now be applied to investigate other reactions that are critical for genome stability, including the identity of the lagging strand polymerase and the roles of more specialized DNA polymerases in copying damaged DNA.

According to Pursell, a researcher in the DNA Replication Fidelity Group at NIEHS and first author on the paper the studys findings advance the fundamental understanding of how the genomes of many higher organisms are replicated.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), a component of the National Institutes of Health, supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health. For more information on environmental health topics, please visit our website at http://www.niehs.nih.gov/.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and i
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