Revealing the base pair stepping dynamics of nucleic acid motor proteins with optical traps

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Nearly all aspects of nucleic acid metabolism involve motor proteins. This diverse group of enzymes, which includes DNA and RNA polymerases, the ribosome, helicases, and other translocases, converts chemical energy in the form of bond hydrolysis into concerted motion along nucleic acid filaments. The direct observation of this motion at its fundamental distance scale of one base pair has required the development of new ultrasensitive techniques. Recent advances in optical traps have now made these length scales, once the exclusive realm of crystallographic techniques, accessible. Several new studies using optical traps have revealed for the first time how motor proteins translocate along their substrates in a stepwise fashion. Though these techniques have only begun to be applied to biological problems, the unprecedented access into nucleic acid motor protein movement has already provided important insights into their mechanism. In this perspective, we review these advances and offer our view on the future of this exciting development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3080-3095
Number of pages16
JournalPhysical Chemistry Chemical Physics
Issue number13
StatePublished - Mar 23 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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