We screened 67 mutants in the O-helix of Thermus aquaticus (Taq) DNA polymerase I (pol I) for altered fidelity of DNA synthesis. These mutants were obtained (Suzuki, M., Baskin, D., Hood, L., and Loeb, L. A. (1996) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 93, 9670-9675) by substituting an oligonucleotide containing random sequences for codons 659-671, and selecting for complementation of a growth defect in Escherichia coli caused by temperature- sensitive host pol I. Thirteen mutants decreased fidelity in a screen that employed primer extension reactions lacking one of four complementary deoxynucleoside triphosphates (dNTPs). Three mutants were purified and exhibited 29-68% of wild-type specific activity. Homogeneous polymerases A661E, A661P, and T664R extended primers further than the wild-type, synthesizing past template nucleotides for which the complementary dNTP was absent. The data indicate that both misinsertion of incorrect nucleotides and extension of mispaired primer termini were increased. In a lacZα forward mutation assay, A661E and T664R yielded mutation frequencies at least 7- and 25-fold greater, respectively, than that of the wild-type polymerase. These findings emphasize the importance of the O-helix in substrate recognition and are compatible with a role for pyrophosphate release in enhancing fidelity of DNA synthesis.
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