Switching transcription with bacterial RNA polymerase through photocaging, photorelease and phosphorylation reactions in the major groove of DNA†
We report proof of principle biomimetic switching of transcription in vitro through non-natural chemical reactions in the major groove of DNA templates. Photocaged DNA templates containing nitrobenzyl-protected 5-hydroxymethyluracil or – cytosine permitted no transcription with E. coli RNA polymerase (OFF state). Their irradiation with 400 nm light resulted in DNA templates containing hydroxymethylpyrimidines, which switched transcription ON with a higher yield (250–350%) compared to non-modified DNA. Phosphorylation of templates containing 5-hydroxymethyluracil (but not 5-hydroxymethylcytosine) then turned transcription OFF again. It is the first step towards artificial bioorthogonal chemical epigenetics.