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Gene Regulation And Protein Synthesis

Gene expression in many bacteria is regulated through the existence of operons. An operon is a cluster of genes whose protein products have related functions. For instance, the lac operon includes one gene that transports lactose sugar into the cell and another that breaks it into two parts. These genes are under the control of the same promoter, and so are transcribed and translated into protein at the same time. RNA polymerase can only reach the promoter if a repressor is not blocking it; the lac repressor is dislodged by lactose. In this way, the bacterium uses its resources to make lactose-digesting enzymes only when lactose is available.

Other genes are expressed constantly at low levels; their protein products are required for "housekeeping" functions such as membrane synthesis and DNA repair. One such enzyme is DNA gyrase, which relieves strain in the double helix during replication and repair. DNA gyrase is the target for the antibiotic ciproflaxin (sold under the name Cipro), effective against Bacillus anthracis, the cause of anthrax. Since eukaryotes do not have this type of DNA gyrase, they are not harmed by the action of this antibiotic.

As in eukaryotes, translation (protein synthesis) occurs on the ribosome. Without a nucleus to exclude it, the ribosome can attach to the messenger RNA even while the RNA is still attached to the DNA. Multiple ribosomes can attach to the same mRNA, making multiple copies of the same protein.

The ribosomes of eubacteria are similar in structure to those in eukaryotes and archaea, but differ in molecular detail. This has two important consequences. First, sequencing ribosomal RNA molecules is a useful tool for understanding the evolutionary diversification of the Eubacteria. Organisms with more similar sequences are presumed to be more closely related. The same tool has been used to show that Archaea and Eubacteria are not closely related, despite their outward similarities. Indeed, Archaea are more closely related to eukaryotes (including humans) than they are to Eubacteria.

Second, the differences between bacterial and eukaryotic ribosomes can be exploited in designing antibacterial therapies. Various unique parts of the bacterial ribosome are the targets for numerous antibiotics, including streptomycin, tetracycline, and erythromycin.

Richard Robinson


Madigan, Michael T., John M. Martinko, and Jack Parker. Brock Biology of Micro-organisms, 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.

Margulis, Lynn, and Karlene Schwartz. Five Kingdoms, 3rd ed. New York: W. H.Freeman, 1998.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 2Eubacteria - Structure, Metabolism, Life Cycle, Dna, Gene Transfer, Gene Regulation And Protein Synthesis