Because eukaryotic genomes are very complex, DNA replication is a very complicated process that involves several enzymes and other proteins. It occurs in three main stages: initiation, elongation, and termination.
Recall that eukaryotic DNA is bound to proteins known as histones to form structures called nucleosomes. During initiation, the DNA is made accessible to the proteins and enzymes involved in the replication process. How does the replication machinery know where on the DNA double helix to begin? It turns out that there are specific nucleotide sequences called origins of replication at which replication begins. Certain proteins bind to the origin of replication while an enzyme called helicase unwinds and opens up the DNA helix. As the DNA opens up, Y-shaped structures called replication forks are formed (Figure 9.10). Two replication forks are formed at the origin of replication, and these get extended in both directions as replication proceeds. There are multiple origins of replication on the eukaryotic chromosome, such that replication can occur simultaneously from several places in the genome.
During elongation, an enzyme called DNA polymerase adds DNA nucleotides to the 3' end of the template. Because DNA polymerase can only add new nucleotides at the end of a backbone, a primer sequence, which provides this starting point, is added with complementary RNA nucleotides. This primer is removed later, and the nucleotides are replaced with DNA nucleotides. One strand, which is complementary to the parental DNA strand, is synthesized continuously toward the replication fork so the polymerase can add nucleotides in this direction. This continuously synthesized strand is known as the leading strand. Because DNA polymerase can only synthesize DNA in a 5' to 3' direction, the other new strand is put together in short pieces called Okazaki fragments. The Okazaki fragments each require a primer made of RNA to start the synthesis. The strand with the Okazaki fragments is known as the lagging strand. As synthesis proceeds, an enzyme removes the RNA primer, which is then replaced with DNA nucleotides, and the gaps between fragments are sealed by an enzyme called DNA ligase.
The process of DNA replication can be summarized as follows:
- DNA unwinds at the origin of replication.
- New bases are added to the complementary parental strands. One new strand is made continuously, while the other strand is made in pieces.
- Primers are removed, new DNA nucleotides are put in place of the primers and the backbone is sealed by DNA ligase.
You isolate a cell strain in which the joining together of Okazaki fragments is impaired and suspect that a mutation has occurred in an enzyme found at the replication fork. Which enzyme is most likely to be mutated?