The crystal structure of T7 RNA polymerase reveals a molecule organized around a cleft that can accommodate a double-stranded DNA template. A portion (∼ 45%) of the molecule displays extensive structural homology to the polymerase domain of Klenow fragment and more limited homology to the human immunodeficiency virus HIV-1 reverse transcriptase. A comparison of the structures and sequences of these polymerases identifies structural elements that may be responsible for discriminating between ribonucleotide and deoxyribonucleotide substrates, and RNA and DNA templates. The relative locations of the catalytic site and a specific promoter recognition residue allow the orientation of the polymerase on the template to be defined.
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