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Highlights of Coronavirus Structural Studies

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Reader's Corner Archive

29 May 2020

The regulation and functions of DNA and RNA G-quadruplexes

DNA and RNA can adopt various secondary structures. Four-stranded G-quadruplex (G4) structures form through self-recognition of guanines into stacked tetrads, and considerable biophysical and structural evidence exists for G4 formation in vitro. Computational studies and sequencing methods have revealed the prevalence of G4 sequence motifs at gene regulatory regions in various genomes, including in humans. Experiments using chemical, molecular and cell biology methods have demonstrated that G4s exist in chromatin DNA and in RNA, and have linked G4 formation with key biological processes ranging from transcription and translation to genome instability and cancer. In the paper published in Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology, Balasubramanian, S. et al. first discuss the identification of G4s and evidence for their formation in cells using chemical biology, imaging and genomic technologies. They then discuss possible functions of DNA G4s and their interacting proteins, particularly in transcription, telomere biology and genome instability. Roles of RNA G4s in RNA biology, especially in translation, are also discussed. Furthermore, they consider the emerging relationships of G4s with chromatin and with RNA modifications. Finally, they discuss the connection between G4 formation and synthetic lethality in cancer cells, and recent progress towards considering G4s as therapeutic targets in human diseases.

29 May 2020

The architecture of the Gram-positive bacterial cell wall

The primary structural component of the bacterial cell wall is peptidoglycan, which is essential for viability and the synthesis of which is the target for crucial antibiotics. Peptidoglycan is a single macromolecule made of glycan chains crosslinked by peptide side branches that surrounds the cell, acting as a constraint to internal turgor. In Gram-positive bacteria, peptidoglycan is tens of nanometers thick, generally portrayed as a homogeneous structure that provides mechanical strength.  S. J. Foster &  J. K. Hobbs applied atomic force microscopy to interrogate the morphologically distinct Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus subtilis species, using live cells and purified peptidoglycan. The paper published in Nature shows that the mature surface of live cells is characterized by a landscape of large (up to 60 nm in diameter), deep (up to 23 nm) pores constituting a disordered gel of peptidoglycan. The inner peptidoglycan surface, consisting of more nascent material, is much denser, with glycan strand spacing typically less than 7 nm. The inner surface architecture is location dependent; the cylinder of B. subtilis has dense circumferential orientation, while in S. aureus and division septa for both species, peptidoglycan is dense but randomly oriented. Revealing the molecular architecture of the cell envelope frames our understanding of its mechanical properties and role as the environmental interface, providing information complementary to traditional structural biology approaches.

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