What is DNA Polymerase?

A DNA polymerase is an enzyme that catalyzes the polymerization of deoxyribonucleotides into a DNA strand. DNA polymerases are best-known for their role in DNA replication, in which the polymerase "reads" an intact DNA strand as a template and uses it to synthesize the new strand.

This process copies a piece of DNA. The newly-polymerized molecule is complementary to the template strand and identical to the template's original partner strand. DNA polymerases use a magnesium ion for catalytic activity.

DNA polymerases have highly-conserved structure, which means that their overall catalytic subunits vary, on a whole, very little from species to species. Conserved structures usually indicate important, irreplicable functions of the cell, the maintenance of which provides evolutionary advantages.

A surface representation of human DNA polymerase β (Pol β), a central enzyme in the base excision repair (BER) pathway
A surface representation of human DNA polymerase β (Pol β), a central enzyme in the base excision repair (BER) pathway. Image Credit: niehs.nih.gov

Some viruses also encode special DNA polymerases, such as Hepatitis B virus DNA polymerase. These may selectively replicate viral DNA through a variety of mechanisms. Retroviruses encode an unusual DNA polymerase called reverse transcriptase, which is an RNA-dependent DNA polymerase (RdDp). It polymerizes DNA from a template of RNA.

Further Reading


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