Helicases are ubiquitous enzymes found in all organisms that are necessary for all (or virtually all) aspects of nucleic acid metabolism. The Pif1 helicase family is a group of 5'-->3' directed, ATP-dependent, super family IB helicases found in nearly all eukaryotes. Here, we review the discovery, evolution, and what is currently known about these enzymes in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (ScPif1 and ScRrm3), Schizosaccharomyces pombe (SpPfh1), Trypanosoma brucei (TbPIF1, 2, 5, and 8), mice (mPif1), and humans (hPif1). Pif1 helicases variously affect telomeric, ribosomal, and mitochondrial DNA replication, as well as Okazaki fragment maturation, and in at least some cases affect these processes by using their helicase activity to disrupt stable nucleoprotein complexes. While the functions of these enzymes vary within and between organisms, it is evident that Pif1 family helicases are crucial for both nuclear and mitochondrial genome maintenance.
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