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Reverse transcriptase (RT) is an enzyme used to generate complementary DNA (cDNA) from an RNA template, a process termed reverse transcription. It is mainly associated with retroviruses. RT inhibitors are widely used as antiretroviral drugs. RT activities are also associated with the replication of chromosome ends (telomerase) and some mobile genetic elements (retrotransposons).
HIV uses reverse transcriptase to copy its genetic material and generate new viruses.
Antiretroviral Drugs have been designed to disrupt the process and thereby suppress the growth of HIV.
Reverse transcriptase inhibitors drugs include:
Reverse transcriptase is commonly used in research to apply the polymerase chain reaction technique to RNA in a technique called reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). The classical PCR technique can be applied only to DNA strands, but, with the help of reverse transcriptase, RNA can be transcribed into DNA, thus making PCR analysis of RNA molecules possible. Reverse transcriptase is used also to create cDNA libraries from mRNA. The commercial availability of reverse transcriptase greatly improved knowledge in the area of molecular biology, as, along with other enzymes, it allowed scientists to clone, sequence, and characterise RNA.
Reverse transcriptase has also been employed in insulin production. By inserting eukaryotic mRNA for insulin production along with reverse transcriptase into bacteria, the mRNA could be inserted into the prokaryote's genome. Large amounts of insulin can then be created, sidestepping the need to harvest pig pancreas and other such traditional sources. Directly inserting eukaryotic DNA into bacteria would not work because it carries introns, so would not translate successfully using the bacterial ribosomes. Processing in the eukaryotic cell during mRNA production removes these introns to provide a suitable template. Reverse transcriptase converted this edited RNA back into DNA so it could be incorporated in the genome.