Taq polymerase: The ultimate copying machine

Many scientists out there would be familiar with PCR, polymerase chain reaction, a technique which allows amplification of short segments of DNA. This invention has been hailed as one of the great developments in biological sciences and has revolutionised the genetics field. In order to understand the significance of PCR, I recommend you to watch the The PCR song . It’s informative and actually quite entertaining!

PCR would have not been as successful as it is today without the help of nature. The essential enzyme which specializes in catalyzing the synthesis of new DNA strands from a DNA template at very high temperatures is called Taq polymerase.

This enzyme named after the bacterium Thermus aquaticus, an organism which naturally grows in hot springs as well as thermal vents and has evolved proteins that are extremely heat resistant. 

A typical hot spring where bacterium Thermus aquaticus thrive

 Taq polymerase is heat tolerant with the optimum temperature activity being 75-80 oC.  This property meant it was specifically chosen to execute Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR), because it was able to survive the high temperatures required to denature the DNA duplex. Most other DNA polymerases from other species would become denatured and inactivated at these temperatures.

Thermus aquaticus

PCR is necessary research tool that allows investigation in forensic crime scenes, genetic diseases, inheritance patterns, sex determination of embryos, drug discovery and detection of pathogens.

I think it’s fascinating that most of our sophisticated technologies are inspired by nature.