The intrinsically thermostable Y-family DNA polymerases of Sulfolobus spp. have revealed detailed three-dimensional structure and catalytic mechanisms of trans-lesion DNA polymerases, yet their functions in maintaining their native genomes remain largely unexplored. To identify functions of the Y-family DNA polymerase Dbh in replicating the Sulfolobus genome under extreme conditions, we disrupted the dbh gene in Sulfolobus acidocaldarius and characterized the resulting mutant strains phenotypically. Disruption of dbh did not cause any obvious growth defect, sensitivity to any of several DNA-damaging agents, or change in overall rate of spontaneous mutation at a well-characterized target gene. Loss of dbh did, however, cause significant changes in the spectrum of spontaneous forward mutation in each of two orthologous target genes of different sequence. Relative to wild-type strains, dbh(-) constructs exhibited fewer frame-shift and other small insertion-deletion mutations, but exhibited more base-pair substitutions that converted G:C base pairs to T:A base pairs. These changes, which were confirmed to be statistically significant, indicate two distinct activities of the Dbh polymerase in Sulfolobus cells growing under nearly optimal culture conditions (78-80°C and pH 3). The first activity promotes slipped-strand events within simple repetitive motifs, such as mononucleotide runs or triplet repeats, and the second promotes insertion of C opposite a potentially miscoding form of G, thereby avoiding G:C to T:A transversions.
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