Polymerase Pieces

Researchers discover a new subunit of a bacterial RNA polymerase—as well as hints of its potential role in defending against viruses.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Dec 1, 2014

PETER LEWIS

EDITOR'S CHOICE IN CELL BIOLOGY

The paper
A.N. Keller et al., “ε, a new subunit of RNA polymerase found in Gram-positive bacteria,” J Bacteriol, 196:3622-32, 2014.

The contaminent
Molecular biologist Peter Lewis of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, and colleagues were purifying RNA polymerase from the bacterium Bacillus subtilis to study transcription elongation when they stumbled across something they didn’t expect: a small, tagalong protein. “We just simply couldn’t get this protein free from other RNA polymerase subunits no matter what we did,” he says, “which led us to suspect that, at the very least, it’s very tightly associated with RNA polymerase and probably a subunit.”

The investigation
X-ray crystallography of the mystery protein revealed that it was not related to known subunits and therefore deserved its own designation, epsilon (ε). “I think it’s reasonable to call it a subunit,”...

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