Friday, February 10, 2006

Multiple views of integration

Here are some snapshots from one of our favorite friendly phage. Yep, lambda phage, scourge of E. coli everywhere and decades-long friend to molecular biologists.

I used to spend lots of time with shoelaces and bits of string trying to understand how lambda got cut apart, how the E. coli chromosome got cut apart, and how the four free ends, with two strands of DNA at each end, got joined back together. The process of lambda integration is also intriguing because of the way the genes get flipped around during integration, setting up a new gene order.

Now, we're luckier. We get to see and interact with colorful images, derived from the coordinates of the lambda integrase protein itself. The image below shows the two subunits of lambda integrase, colored in blue and purple, hanging on to three different strands of DNA (green, brown, and grey).



In the next image, I zoomed in and hid the integrase protein, so that I could get a closer look at the DNA. This image shows where the integrase protein has cut one strand of DNA so there are two free ends.



Exploring DNA Structure has over 70 structures like these with DNA molecules alone or DNA molecules bound to proteins, anti-tumor drugs, or other substances. It's truly amazing to hear suprised high school kids say they never knew that working with DNA could be as much fun as a video game.

With resources like these, I don't see any reason why high school kids and college students can't use computers for doing science. Why not learn about DNA structure by working with real data?


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