From: University of Cambridge
Published September 21, 2007 05:52 PM

And cut! Cambridge scientists film new nanoscale battle scene

University of Cambridge scientists have, for the first time, been able to film the interaction between a bacterial enzyme and a DNA strand from an attacking virus. The real-time footage shows how the enzyme attaches itself to the DNA of a virus, in order to cut the DNA before the virus has the chance to infect the bacterium.

Researchers from the Department of Pharmacology, in collaboration with researchers based in Edinburgh, India and Japan, have used a revolutionary scanning atomic force microscope to produce the footage. Their latest research not only improves our understanding of how enzymes interact with DNA on the nanoscale, but also has marked implications for scientists looking for new cancer treatments because interactions between DNA and enzymes are often disrupted in cancer.

Dr Robert Henderson, who led the research, explains, "This is the first time that such a process has been seen in real time. To be able see these nano-mechanisms as they are really happening is incredibly exciting. We can actually see the enzyme 'threading' through a loop in the virus's DNA in order to lock on to and break it, a process known as DNA cleavage."


Before now, scientists could only make assumptions as to how proteins and DNA interact based on indirect evidence but this new window on a fundamental biological process gives them the opportunity to view how the interaction actually occurs.

"The microscope and new techniques give us a clear view of the molecular interactions between proteins and DNA that we could only previously interpret indirectly. The indirect methods require scientists to make assumptions to interpret their data, and video footage like this can help to provide a more direct understanding of what is really happening.

"Standard technology for filming on this scale can only produce one image frame every 8 minutes. However, our new work allows one frame per 500 - or fewer, milliseconds."

This research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. To view the movie, click on the link on the top right-hand side of this page.

For further information, please contact the University of Cambridge Office of Communications on 01223 332300

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