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Enzyme reverse transcriptase UPSC NOTE

 What is the enzyme reverse transcriptase?

  • Reverse transcriptase (RT), also known as RNA-dependent DNA polymerase, is a DNA polymerase enzyme that transcribes single-stranded RNA into DNA

  • This enzyme is able to synthesize a double helix DNA once the RNA has been reverse transcribed in a first step into a single-strand DNA

  • As laboratories worldwide rushed to develop reliable diagnostic tests for COVID-19, techniques using the enzyme became the gold standard to detect the SARS-2 virus, and a cornerstone of molecular diagnostics.

Significance & History

  • Researchers in the labs of Howard Temin and David Baltimore independently discovered it and published their findings in back-to-back articles in the journal Nature in 1970. 

  • The prevailing belief at the time was that in all living beings, hereditary information flowed only from DNA to RNA and from RNA to protein (a.k.a. the ‘Central Dogma’). 

  • The discoveries of Drs. Temin and Baltimore et al. showed information could flow the other way, too, with RNA giving ‘rise’ to DNA

  • The ability of cells to create DNA copies from RNA revolutionised research methods in molecular biology, where researchers could reverse-transcribe messenger RNAs to pieces of DNA, clone that DNA into bacterial vectors, and study the function of the corresponding genes


Impact on HIV/AIDS

  • In diagnostics, clinicians used reverse transcriptase to convert RNA to DNA and thus estimate the amount of viral material in a given sample

  • This technique quickly found wide application and use in the study of RNA viruses, including hepatitis B and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

  • The discovery of reverse transcriptase had a significant effect on the management and treatment of HIV infections, including Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), in 1980s. 

  • A generation of antiviral agents that specifically targeted the reverse transcriptase enzyme helped convert an otherwise deadly disease to one that could be managed, translating to improving the long-term outcomes and survival of people living with AIDS.

Role in Human Genome and Evolution

  • The human genome is interspersed in many places with sequences, called elements, that appear to have originated from retroviruses. Thus, researchers call them retroelements

  • Recent evidence has suggested that these retroelements could really have had a profound impact on human biology and evolution, and that they play important roles in a variety of physiological processes

  • A recent journal, reported that the expression of more than a thousand human endogenous retroviruses — a major class of retroelements in the human genome — could be associated with a risk of neuropsychiatric diseases in humans.

  • Retroelements in the human genome and bacterial reverse transcriptases have a common evolutionary history as well as share functional mechanisms. 

  • Bacterial reverse transcriptases — believed to be the precursors of their eukaryotic counterparts — exhibit analogous mechanisms.

  • The discovery of reverse transcriptase activity across the different domains of life underscores the enzyme’s fundamental role in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic systems as well as a remarkable evolutionary continuity and functional versatility

Biotechnological and Medical Applications

  • When the bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae is infected by bacteriophages — viruses that infect bacteria — they use a non-coding RNA with specific motifs (or structures) that could bind to reverse transcriptase and instruct cells to create DNA

  • This DNA copy has multiple copies of a gene that can create a specific protein.

  • The researchers dubbed this protein ‘Neo’ for “never-ending open-reading frame”. 

  • It could place the bacterial cell in a state of suspended animation, blocking its replication, and thus stalling the replication of the invading bacteriophage as well

  • Thus, the infection is stopped in its tracks

  • Recent discoveries hint at the potential of innovative applications in biotechnology and medicine, especially in the context of emerging antimicrobial resistance, the ability of disease-causing microbes to resist the effects of substances designed to incapacitate or kill them.


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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Enzyme reverse transcriptase UPSC NOTE
Enzyme reverse transcriptase UPSC NOTE
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