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EMBO J. 1996 Jul 1;15(13):3458-65.

Template-free generation of RNA species that replicate with bacteriophage T7 RNA polymerase.

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Max-Planck-Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, Germany.


A large variety of different RNA species that are replicated by DNA-dependent RNA polymerase from bacteriophage T7 have been generated by incubating high concentrations of this enzyme with substrate for extended time periods. The products differed from sample to sample in molecular weight and sequence, their chain lengths ranging from 60 to 120. The mechanism of autocatalytic amplification of RNA by T7 RNA polymerase proved to be analogous to that observed with viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (replicases): only single-stranded templates are accepted and complementary replica strands are synthesized. With enzyme in excess, exponential growth was observed; linear growth resulted when the enzyme was saturated by RNA template. The plus strands, present at 90% of the replicating RNA species, were found to have GG residues at both termini. Consensus sequences were not found among the sequences of the replicating RNA species. The secondary structures of all species sequenced turned out to be hairpins. The RNA species were specifically replicated by T7 RNA polymerase; they were not accepted as templates by the RNA polymerases from Escherichia coli or bacteriophage SP6 or by Qbeta replicase; T3 RNA polymerase was partially active. Template-free production of RNA was completely suppressed by addition of DNA to the incubation mixture. When both DNA and RNA templates were present, transcription and replication competed, but T7 RNA polymerase preferred DNA as a template. No replicating RNA species were detected in vivo in cells expressing T7 RNA polymerase.

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