Error-prone replication for better or worse

Trends Microbiol. 2004 Jun;12(6):288-95. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2004.04.004.


Precise genome duplication requires accurate copying by DNA polymerases and the elimination of occasional mistakes by proofreading exonucleases and mismatch repair enzymes. The commonly held belief that 'if something is worth doing, then it's worth doing well' normally applies to DNA replication and repair, however, there are exceptions. This review describes elements that are crucial to cell fitness, evolution and survival in the recently discovered error-prone DNA polymerases. Large numbers of errant DNA polymerases, spanning microorganisms to humans, are used to rescue stalled replication forks by copying damaged DNA and even undamaged DNA to generate 'purposeful' mutations that generate genetic diversity in times of stress. Here we focus on low-fidelity polymerases from bacteria, comparing Escherichia coli, archeabacteria and those most recently discovered in Gram-positive Bacilli, Streptococcus, pathogenic Mycobacterium and intein-containing cyanobacteria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological*
  • Bacteria / enzymology
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Base Pair Mismatch*
  • DNA Repair Enzymes / metabolism
  • DNA Repair*
  • DNA Replication*
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / metabolism
  • Exodeoxyribonucleases / metabolism
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Sulfolobus / enzymology
  • Sulfolobus / genetics


  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase
  • Exodeoxyribonucleases
  • DNA Repair Enzymes