As the vital information repositories of the cell, the nucleic acids DNA and RNA pose many challenges as enzyme substrates. To produce, maintain and repair DNA and RNA, and to extract the genetic information that they encode, a battery of remarkable enzymes has evolved, which includes translocases, polymerases/replicases, helicases, nucleases, topoisomerases, transposases, recombinases, repair enzymes and ribosomes. An understanding of how these enzymes function is essential if we are to have a clear view of the molecular biology of the cell and aspire to manipulate genomes and gene expression to our advantage. To bring together scientists working in this fast-developing field, the Biochemical Society held a Focused Meeting, ‘Machines on Genes: Enzymes that Make, Break and Move DNA and RNA’, at Robinson College, University of Cambridge, U.K., in August 2009. The present article summarizes the research presented at this meeting and the reviews associated with the talks which are published in this issue of Biochemical Society Transactions.

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