The Escherichia coli DNA polymerase III holoenzyme contains both products of the dnaX gene, tau and gamma, but only tau is essential.

Abstract:

The replicative polymerase of Escherichia coli, DNA polymerase III, consists of a three-subunit core polymerase plus seven accessory subunits. Of these seven, tau and gamma are products of one replication gene, dnaX. The shorter gamma is created from within the tau reading frame by a programmed ribosomal -1 frameshift over codons 428 and 429 followed by a stop codon in the new frame. Two temperature-sensitive mutations are available in dnaX. The 2016(Ts) mutation altered both tau and gamma by changing codon 118 from glycine to aspartate; the 36(Ts) mutation affected the activity only of tau because it altered codon 601 (from glutamate to lysine). Evidence which indicates that, of these two proteins, only the longer tau is essential includes the following. (i) The 36(Ts) mutation is a temperature-sensitive lethal allele, and overproduction of wild-type gamma cannot restore its growth. (ii) An allele which produced tau only could be substituted for the wild-type chromosomal gene, but a gamma-only allele could not substitute for the wild-type dnaX in the haploid state. Thus, the shorter subunit gamma is not essential, suggesting that tau can be substitute for the usual function(s) of gamma. Consistent with these results, we found that a functional polymerase was assembled from nine pure subunits in the absence of the gamma subunit. However, the possibility that, in cells growing without gamma, proteolysis of tau to form a gamma-like product in amounts below the Western blot (immunoblot) sensitivity level cannot be excluded.

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