DNA-Directed DNA Polymerases Evolve From Reverse Transcriptase
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Scientists have been debating for decades the origin of life on earth. A number of hypotheses were proposed as to what emerged first RNA or DNA; with most scientists are in favour of the "RNA World" hypothesis. Assuming RNA emerged first, it fellow that the RNA polymerases would've appeared before DNA polymerases. Using recombinant DNA technology and bioinformatics we undertook this study to explore the relationship between RNA polymerases, reverse transcriptase and DNA polymerases. The working hypothesis is that DNA polymerases evolved from reverse transcriptase and the latter evolved from RNA polymerases. If this hypothesis is correct then one would expect to find various ancient DNA polymerases with varying level of reverse transcriptase activity. In the first phase of this research project multiple sequence alignments were made on the protein sequence of 32 prokaryotic DNA-directed DNA polymerases originating from 11 prokaryotic families against 3 viral reverse transcriptase. The data from such alignments was not very conclusive. DNA polymerases with higher level of reverse transcriptase activity were non-confined to ancient organisms, as one would've expected. The second phase of this project was focused on conditions that may alter the DNA polymerase activity. Various reaction conditions, such as temperature, using various ions (Ni2+, Mn2+, Mg2+) were tested. Interestingly, it was found that the DNA polymerase from the Thermos aquatics family can be made to copy RNA into DNA (i.e. reverse transcriptase activity). Thus it was shown that under appropriate conditions (ions and reactions temperatures) reverse transcriptase activity can be induced in DNA polymerase. In the third phase of this study recombinant DNA technology was used to generate a chimeric DNA polymerase; in attempts to identify the region(s) of the polymerase responsible for RNA-directed DNA polymerase activity. The two DNA polymerases employed were the Thermus aquatic us and Thermus thermophiles. As in the second phase various reaction conditions were investigated. Data indicated that the newly engineered chimeric DNA polymerase can be induced to copy RNA into DNA. Thus the intrinsic reverse transcriptase activity found in ancient DNA polymerases was localized into a domain and can be induced via appropriate reaction conditions.