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Letters to Nature
Nature 344, 467 - 468 (29 March 1990); doi:10.1038/344467a0

Selection in vitro of an RNA enzyme that specifically cleaves single-stranded DNA

Debra L. Robertson & Gerald F. Joyce*

Department of Chemistry and Department of Molecular Biology, Research Institute of Scripps Clinic, 10666 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, California 92037, USA
*To whom correspondence should be addressed

THE discovery of RNA enzymes1,2 has, for the first time, provided a single molecule that has both genetic and catalytic properties. We have devised techniques for the mutation, selection and amplification of catalytic RNA, all of which can be performed rapidly in vitro 3. Here we describe how these techniques can be integrated and performed repeatedly within a single reaction vessel. This allows evolution experiments to be carried out in response to artificially imposed selection constraints. We worked with the Tetrahymena ribozyme, a self-splicing group I intron derived from the large ribosomal RNA precursor of Tetrahymena thermophila that catalyses sequence-specific phosphoester transfer reactions involving RNA substrates4,5. It consists of 413 nucleotides, and assumes a well-defined secondary and tertiary structure responsible for its catalytic activity. We selected for variant forms of the enzyme that could best react with a DNA substrate. This led to the recovery of a mutant form of the enzyme that cleaves DNA more efficiently than the wild-type enzyme. The selected molecule represents the discovery of the first RNA enzyme known to cleave single-stranded DNA specifically.

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