Lerner, E., et al. Toward dynamic structural biology: Two decades of single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer. Science 359, (2018). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Classical structural biology can only provide static snapshots of biomacromolecules. Single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (smFRET) paved the way for studying dynamics in macromolecular structures under biologically relevant conditions. Since its first implementation in 1996, smFRET experiments have confirmed previously hypothesized mechanisms and provided new insights into many fundamental biological processes, such as DNA maintenance and repair, transcription, translation, and membrane transport. We review 22 years of contributions of smFRET to our understanding of basic mechanisms in biochemistry, molecular biology, and structural biology. Additionally, building on current state-of-the-art implementations of smFRET, we highlight possible future directions for smFRET in applications such as biosensing, high-throughput screening, and molecular diagnostics.
Alhadid, Y., et al. Studying transcription initiation by RNA polymerase with diffusion-based single-molecule fluorescence. Protein Sci. 26, 1278–1290 (2017). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Over the past decade, fluorescence-based single-molecule studies significantly contributed to characterizing the mechanism of RNA polymerase at different steps in transcription, especially in transcription initiation. Transcription by bacterial DNA-dependent RNA polymerase is a multistep process that uses genomic DNA to synthesize complementary RNA molecules. Transcription initiation is a highly regulated step in E. coli, but it has been challenging to study its mechanism because of its stochasticity and complexity. In this review, we describe how single-molecule approaches have contributed to our understanding of transcription and have uncovered mechanistic details that were not observed in conventional assays because of ensemble averaging.
Lerner, E., et al. Backtracked and paused transcription initiation intermediate of Escherichia coli RNA polymerase. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 113, E6562–E6571 (2016). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Initiation is a highly regulated, rate-limiting step in transcription. We used a series of approaches to examine the kinetics of RNA polymerase (RNAP) transcription initiation in greater detail. Quenched kinetics assays, in combination with gel-based assays, showed that RNAP exit kinetics from complexes stalled at later stages of initiation (e.g., from a 7-base transcript) were markedly slower than from earlier stages (e.g., from a 2- or 4-base transcript). In addition, the RNAP-GreA endonuclease accelerated transcription kinetics from otherwise delayed initiation states. Further examination with magnetic tweezers transcription experiments showed that RNAP adopted a long-lived backtracked state during initiation and that the paused-backtracked initiation intermediate was populated abundantly at physiologically relevant nucleoside triphosphate (NTP) concentrations. The paused intermediate population was further increased when the NTP concentration was decreased and/or when an imbalance in NTP concentration was introduced (situations that mimic stress). Our results confirm the existence of a previously hypothesized paused and backtracked RNAP initiation intermediate and suggest it is biologically relevant; furthermore, such intermediates could be exploited for therapeutic purposes and may reflect a conserved state among paused, initiating eukaryotic RNA polymerase II enzymes.