One of the central reactions of homologous recombination is the invasion of a single strand of DNA into a homologous duplex to form a joint molecule. Here we describe the isolation of a cell-free system from meiotic yeast cells that catalyses joint-molecule formation in vitro. The active components in the system required ATP and homologous DNA and operated in both 0.5 and 13 mM MgCl2. When the cell-free system was prepared from rad51/rad51 and rad52/rad52 mutants and joint-molecule formation was assayed at 0.5 mM MgCl2, the specific activity decreased to 6% and 13.8% respectively of the wild-type level. However, when the same mutant extracts were premixed, joint-molecule formation increased 4-8-fold, i.e. the mutant extracts exhibited complementation in vitro. These results demonstrated that Rad51p and Rad52p were required for optimal joint-molecule formation at 0.5 mM MgCl2. Intriguingly, however, Rad51p and Rad52p seemed to be more dispensable at higher concentrations of MgCl2 (13 mM). Further purification of the responsible activity has proven problematical, but it did flow through a sizing column as a single peak (molecular mass 1.2 MDa) that was co-eluted with Rad51p and RFA, the eukaryotic single-stranded DNA-binding protein. All of these characteristics are consistent with the known properties of the reaction in vivo and suggest that the new cell-free system will be suitable for purifying enzymes involved in homologous recombination.

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