The story of Taq polymerase and Thomas Brock’s thermophiles

Do you know the origin of Taq polymerase? Find out in this quick review.

Jan 10, 2012

Revised/updated Nov 1, 2017

Heat resistant enzymes

Convention used to suggest that enzymatic activity would decrease with an increase in temperature. Imagine Thomas Brock’s surprise in 1969, when he found bacteria thriving in the near boiling waters of Yellowstone’s geyser pools. Named Thermus aquaticus, these bacteria can survive temperatures between 50°C and 80°C. Various enzymes were isolated and studied from this organism, but none as significant as Thermus aquaticus DNA polymerase, better known as Taq polymerase.

Enabling PCR

The ability of Taq polymerase to survive the high temperatures required to denature DNA during PCR, meant that researchers, or rather their students, could perform PCR without having to add fresh polymerase each cycle. Brock’s discovery enabled PCR to become an indispensable tool in genetics and diagnostics, and liberated molecular biology students everywhere from the burden of babysitting PCR reactions.