Brown scientists map structure of DNA-doctoring protein complex

December 06, 2006

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- More than half of the human genome is made up of bits of mobile DNA, which can travel inside the body and insert genes into the chromosomes of target cells. This DNA doctoring not only shapes species over time, it also spreads antibiotic resistance and is used by bacteria that spread Lyme disease and by viruses linked to certain forms of cancer.

Last year in Nature, scientists working in the Brown University lab of Arthur Landy and the Harvard Medical School lab of Thomas Ellenberger announced they had solved the structure of "-integrase ("-Int), the protein "surgeon" that allows mobile DNA to cut into a chromosome, insert its own genes, and then sew the chromosome back up. That work was conducted using the lambda virus, which infects Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria and serves as a model that scientists use to understand mobile DNA.

Now scientists in the Landy lab have solved the structure of a DNA-protein complex that acts as a team of "nurses," aiding "-Int during this snip-and-solder procedure known as site-specific recombination. The structure is a three-dimensional representation of the DNA within this complex. Pictured on the cover of the Nov. 17, 2006, journal Molecular Cell, it looks like DNA dressed for a party, a double helix decked with clumps of curly, colorful ribbon. By solving this structure, scientists now know how these six proteins interact with each other and fold DNA during site-specific recombination.

"Once you know how these proteins and DNA are arranged, you have a much better sense of their function," said Xingmin Sun, a postdoctoral research associate in the Landy lab and the lead author of the journal article. "And once you know their function, you begin to see how the real work inside cells gets done."

Sun said solving the structure of the DNA-protein complex called for some creativity. Because it is a string of six proteins, the complex is too big and too flexible to analyze through standard methods such as X-ray crystallography.

Sun used fluorescence resonance energy transfer or FRET, a technique typically used to study small protein complexes in a solution. This time, Sun used FRET to study large protein complexes in a gel. He tagged the DNA with fluorescent dyes and purified the proteins, placing them in a gel that was then shot through with light. Sun measured the wavelengths of light as they bounced between the molecules of dye. Those measurements were then fed into a special software program created by Dale Mierke, a Brown professor of medical science, which plotted their positions to create the structural map.

"The real breakthrough here is successfully using FRET to determine the structure of a large protein-DNA complex," Sun said. "Biologists now have a new tool to help them understand a variety of these complexes, including ones that control cell division, gene expression and DNA replication. So this technique represents a big advance."
-end-
Former Brown postdoctoral research associates Marta Radman-Livaja and Sang Yeol Lee were part of the research team, along with Tapan Biswas, a former postdoctoral research associate at Harvard Medical School. Landy, a professor of medical science in Brown's Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry, acted as senior scientist on the project.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences supported the work.

Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call the Office of Media Relations at (401) 863-2476.

Brown University

Related Bacteria Articles from Brightsurf:

Siblings can also differ from one another in bacteria
A research team from the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is investigating how pathogens influence the immune response of their host with genetic variation.

How bacteria fertilize soya
Soya and clover have their very own fertiliser factories in their roots, where bacteria manufacture ammonium, which is crucial for plant growth.

Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.

Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.

Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.

Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.

Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.

How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.

The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?

Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.

Read More: Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.