Restriction Enzyme (Restriction Endonuclease) – Definition, Types, Examples, Functions

What is Restriction Enzyme (Restriction Endonuclease)?

  • A restriction enzyme, also known as a restriction endonuclease, is an enzyme that plays a crucial role in DNA manipulation and molecular cloning. These enzymes are primarily found in bacteria and archaea and serve as a defense mechanism against invading viruses. They selectively cleave DNA at specific recognition sites within molecules called restriction sites.
  • Restriction enzymes are a subclass of endonucleases, which are enzymes that cleave DNA or RNA at specific internal sites rather than at the ends. They are classified into five types based on their structure and their mode of action. Some enzymes cut DNA at their recognition site, while others have separate recognition and cleavage sites. Regardless of the type, all restriction enzymes make two incisions, one on each sugar-phosphate backbone of the DNA double helix.
  • Within a prokaryotic cell, restriction enzymes play a vital role in a process called restriction digestion. They target and cleave foreign DNA, such as that of invading viruses, while protecting the host DNA. The host DNA is safeguarded by modification enzymes, specifically methyltransferases, which modify the prokaryotic DNA and prevent cleavage. Together, these two processes form the restriction modification system.
  • There is a wide variety of restriction endonucleases, with over 3,600 known enzymes representing more than 250 different specificities. Of these, over 3,000 have been extensively studied, and more than 800 are commercially available. These enzymes are widely used in laboratories for DNA modification and are essential tools in molecular cloning techniques.
  • The term “restriction enzyme” originated from studies on the bacteriophage λ, a virus that infects bacteria. Researchers such as Salvador Luria, Jean Weigle, and Giuseppe Bertani conducted experiments in the early 1950s and discovered the phenomenon of host-controlled restriction and modification of bacteriophages. They observed that the phage λ, which grows well in one strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli C), experiences a significant drop in yield when grown in another strain (E. coli K), sometimes by orders of magnitude. The restricting host, in this case, E. coli K, has the ability to reduce the phage’s biological activity. Subsequent work by Werner Arber and Matthew Meselson revealed that the restriction is caused by enzymatic cleavage of the phage DNA, leading to the term “restriction enzyme.”
  • Arber and Meselson primarily studied type I restriction enzymes, which cleave DNA randomly away from the recognition site. In 1970, Hamilton O. Smith, Thomas Kelly, and Kent Wilcox characterized the first type II restriction enzyme, HindII, isolated from the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae. Type II restriction enzymes became more popular in laboratory work because they cleave DNA at their recognition sequence and are commonly used in molecular biology applications. Further research by Daniel Nathans and Kathleen Danna demonstrated that restriction enzymes can be used to map DNA by producing specific fragments upon cleavage. For their significant contributions to the discovery and characterization of restriction enzymes, Werner Arber, Daniel Nathans, and Hamilton O. Smith were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1978.
  • The discovery and understanding of restriction enzymes revolutionized DNA manipulation and paved the way for the development of recombinant DNA technology. This technology has numerous applications, including the large-scale production of proteins such as human insulin, which is vital for diabetic patients. Overall, restriction enzymes are indispensable tools in molecular biology and have significantly contributed to advancements in genetic research and biotechnology.

Definition of Restriction Enzyme (Restriction Endonuclease)

A restriction enzyme, also known as a restriction endonuclease, is an enzyme that cuts DNA at specific recognition sites, called restriction sites. It is primarily found in bacteria and archaea and serves as a defense mechanism against invading viruses. Restriction enzymes are commonly used in molecular biology laboratories for DNA modification and are essential tools in molecular cloning techniques.

Restriction Enzymes Nomenclature

The nomenclature of restriction enzymes is based on the bacterium from which they were originally isolated. Since their discovery in the 1970s, a significant number of restriction enzymes have been identified and characterized. For instance, over 3,500 different Type II restriction enzymes have been studied in detail.


The naming system for restriction enzymes follows a specific format that includes the bacterial genus, species, and strain. By using this system, the name of a restriction enzyme can provide information about its origin. Let’s take the example of the EcoRI restriction enzyme to illustrate this naming convention:

The name “EcoRI” is derived as follows:

  • “Eco” refers to the bacterial genus Escherichia coli.
  • The letter “R” indicates that it is a restriction enzyme.
  • The letter “I” signifies that EcoRI was the first restriction enzyme isolated from Escherichia coli strain RY13.

By examining the name, it is clear that the EcoRI restriction enzyme was originally isolated from a specific strain of Escherichia coli bacteria called RY13.

This naming system allows researchers to easily identify and categorize restriction enzymes based on their bacterial sources. It provides valuable information about the origin of the enzyme and aids in the communication and documentation of scientific research involving these enzymes.


In summary, the nomenclature of restriction enzymes is based on the bacterium from which they were isolated. The name typically includes the bacterial genus, species, and strain, providing insight into the enzyme’s origin and facilitating scientific communication and categorization.

Source of Restriction Enzymes

  • Restriction enzymes, or restriction endonucleases, are naturally sourced from bacterial cells. They are named “restriction enzymes” because their primary role in bacterial cells is to restrict the infection of bacteria by certain viruses, known as bacteriophages. These enzymes effectively degrade the viral DNA without affecting the bacterial DNA, thereby protecting the bacterial cell.
  • When foreign DNA enters the bacterial cell, the restriction enzyme recognizes it and cuts it at multiple sites along the DNA molecule. It acts as a defense mechanism against the invasion of foreign genetic material. It’s important to note that each bacterium possesses its own unique set of restriction enzymes, and each enzyme specifically recognizes and cuts a particular DNA sequence.
  • It is believed that restriction enzymes evolved from a common ancestor and subsequently spread through horizontal gene transfer, where genetic material is exchanged between organisms. Moreover, there is growing evidence suggesting that restriction endonucleases evolved as selfish genetic elements, meaning they have their own interests and promote their own propagation within a genome.
  • In summary, restriction enzymes are sourced from bacterial cells and have a crucial role in protecting bacteria from viral infections by degrading foreign DNA. Their specificity in recognizing and cutting DNA sequences makes them valuable tools in molecular biology and genetic research.

Recognition Sites/Cutting site for restriction enzyme

Recognition sites, in the context of restriction enzymes, refer to specific DNA sequences that these enzymes can identify and bind to. These sequences exhibit a particular pattern known as palindromes. Palindromes are DNA sequences that read the same on both strands, but in opposite directions.


To illustrate, let’s take the example of the palindrome GAATTC. On one DNA strand, this sequence is read in the 5′ to 3′ direction, while on the opposite strand, it is read in the 3′ to 5′ direction. However, if both strands are read in the 5′ to 3′ direction, the sequence remains the same. Thus, the recognition site appears as follows:

5′ GAATTC 3′


3′ CTTAAG 5′

Within the palindrome, there is a point of symmetry, often situated in the center between specific base pairs (e.g., AT/AT in the example). This symmetry is important because restriction enzymes make cuts in the DNA molecule around this point.


Some restriction enzymes cleave the DNA molecule straight across at the symmetrical axis, resulting in blunt ends. In this case, the cut occurs at the same position on both strands, generating ends with no overhanging bases.

However, restriction enzymes that cut between the same two bases, away from the point of symmetry on the two strands, are more valuable. These enzymes create a staggered or “sticky” break. The resulting ends have short, single-stranded overhangs, which are complementary to each other. These overhangs, known as sticky ends, can easily base pair with complementary ends from other DNA molecules, allowing for the joining of DNA fragments during molecular cloning procedures.

In summary, recognition sites are specific DNA sequences characterized by palindromes, where restriction enzymes bind and make cuts. The type of cut produced can be either blunt ends or sticky ends, depending on the specific enzyme and its cleavage pattern. The availability of sticky ends is particularly advantageous in molecular biology applications, as it facilitates the precise and efficient manipulation of DNA fragments.

Mechanisms of DNA Recognition and Cleavage – how restriction enzymes work?

  • DNA recognition and cleavage by restriction endonucleases involve various mechanisms depending on the type of enzyme and the nature of the DNA sequence being targeted. The different types of restriction endonucleases, such as type IIP, IIF, IIE, IIS, and IIB, exhibit distinct strategies for binding to DNA and cleaving the phosphodiester bonds.
  • Type IIP enzymes, like EcoRI, EcoRV, NotI, and BglI, are typically composed of identical subunits that form dimers. These enzymes recognize palindromic DNA sequences and bind to their recognition sites symmetrically. Each subunit interacts with the DNA in the same manner, and each dimeric enzyme contains two active sites, positioned to cleave one phosphodiester bond in each DNA strand.
  • On the other hand, some enzymes that act on palindromic sites are monomers or tetramers. Monomeric enzymes, exemplified by MvaI, likely bind to their symmetrical recognition site in one orientation, cleave one DNA strand, dissociate, and then re-bind to the site in the opposite orientation to cleave the second strand.
  • Tetrameric enzymes, like SfiI, SgrAI, and Ecl18kI, use two subunits to bind one copy of the symmetrical recognition sequence, similar to dimeric enzymes. However, when bound to only one copy of the target sequence, the tetrameric enzymes exhibit minimal activity. For full activity, the other two subunits must bind a second copy of the recognition sequence. Once both sites are occupied, the enzyme cleaves both strands at both sites before dissociating from the DNA.
  • Dimeric type IIE enzymes, such as EcoRII and NaeI, bind two or more copies of the recognition sequence at separate locations within the protein. These enzymes possess catalytic functions for phosphodiester hydrolysis in one location, while the other location(s) act as regulatory sites. Catalysis can only occur when the regulatory locations bind cognate DNA, which functions as an allosteric activator. Unlike type IIF enzymes, type IIE enzymes cleave only one site per reaction, even though they require the binding of two sites for activation.
  • Asymmetric recognition sequences cannot be recognized by homodimeric enzymes, where each subunit makes identical contacts with the DNA. Therefore, monomeric proteins or oligomers with different subunits are necessary to interact with the entire DNA sequence or different parts of it, respectively. For example, BbvCI is an oligomeric enzyme that utilizes different subunits to recognize different segments of the asymmetric sequence.
  • For enzymes that require binding to two sites, interactions can occur in cis or trans. In cis interactions, the enzyme binds across two sites in the same DNA molecule, causing the intervening DNA to loop out. In trans interactions, the enzyme binds to sites in separate DNA molecules, holding them together. Interactions in cis are more favored due to the higher local concentration of one DNA site near another compared to interactions in trans.
  • Enzymes requiring two sites for restriction, such as type I and type III systems, are generally more active on substrates containing multiple copies of the recognition sequence. This is because the local concentration of two sites in cis is higher than that of sites in trans. Consequently, the majority of restriction enzymes in nature fall into this category.
  • Overall, the mechanisms of DNA recognition and cleavage by restriction endonucleases involve diverse strategies based on the enzyme’s structure, oligomeric state, and the properties of the DNA sequence being targeted.

Types of Restriction Enzymes

Naturally occurring restriction endonucleases, or restriction enzymes, can be classified into five main types (Types I, II, III, IV, and V) based on various characteristics such as their composition, cofactor requirements, target sequence nature, and cleavage site position. However, it should be noted that DNA sequence analysis has revealed a greater diversity, suggesting the existence of additional types.

Here is a summary of the different types of restriction enzymes:

  1. Type I enzymes: These enzymes cleave DNA at sites that are distant from their recognition sequences. They require both ATP and S-adenosyl-L-methionine as cofactors to function properly. Type I enzymes are multifunctional proteins that possess both restriction digestion and methylase activities.
  2. Type II enzymes: Type II enzymes cleave DNA either within or in close proximity to their recognition sites. Most of them require magnesium as a cofactor. Unlike Type I enzymes, Type II enzymes are single-function enzymes that are independent of methylase activity.
  3. Type III enzymes: These enzymes cleave DNA at sites located a short distance away from their recognition sequences. They require ATP (although it is not hydrolyzed) and can be stimulated by S-adenosyl-L-methionine, although it is not essential for their activity. Type III enzymes exist as part of a complex with a modification methylase.
  4. Type IV enzymes: Type IV enzymes target modified DNA, such as methylated, hydroxymethylated, and glucosyl-hydroxymethylated DNA. They recognize specific modifications on the DNA molecule and cleave at corresponding sites.
  5. Type V enzymes: Type V enzymes utilize guide RNAs (gRNAs) to recognize their target sequences. The gRNA helps guide the enzyme to the specific DNA sequence, enabling cleavage at the desired location.

Type l Restriction Enzymes

  • Type I restriction enzymes were the first identified class of restriction enzymes. They were initially discovered in different strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli), specifically K-12 and B strains. These enzymes cleave the DNA at a site that is located randomly and at a significant distance (at least 1000 base pairs) away from their recognition sequence.
  • The cleavage process of Type I restriction enzymes involves a DNA translocation mechanism, indicating that these enzymes also function as molecular motors. The recognition sequence of Type I enzymes is asymmetrical and consists of two specific portions separated by a non-specific spacer. One portion contains 3-4 nucleotides, while the other contains 4-5 nucleotides. The spacer region typically consists of around 6-8 nucleotides.
  • Type I restriction enzymes are multifunctional enzymes that can perform both restriction digestion and modification activities. The enzymatic activity depends on the methylation status of the target DNA. These enzymes require specific cofactors for their optimal activity, including S-adenosyl methionine (AdoMet), hydrolyzed adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and magnesium ions (Mg2+).
  • The Type I restriction enzymes consist of three subunits known as HsdR, HsdM, and HsdS. The HsdR subunit is responsible for the restriction digestion activity, cleaving the DNA at the specific recognition site. The HsdM subunit is involved in the addition of methyl groups to the host DNA, acting as a DNA methyltransferase. Lastly, the HsdS subunit plays a crucial role in the specificity of the recognition site, acting as a DNA-binding component. It contributes to both the restriction digestion (DNA cleavage) and modification (DNA methyltransferase) activities.
  • In summary, Type I restriction enzymes are the earliest discovered class of restriction enzymes. They cleave DNA at random sites distant from their recognition sequence and exhibit a DNA translocation mechanism. These multifunctional enzymes require specific cofactors and consist of three subunits with distinct roles in restriction digestion, DNA modification, and recognition specificity.

Type lI Restriction Enzymes

  • Type II restriction enzymes are distinct from Type I enzymes in several aspects. Type II enzymes form homodimers, meaning they consist of identical subunits. Their recognition sites are usually undivided and palindromic, typically consisting of 4-8 nucleotides. Unlike Type I enzymes, Type II enzymes recognize and cleave DNA at the same site. They do not require ATP or AdoMet for their activity but typically rely on magnesium ions (Mg2+) as a cofactor.
  • Type II restriction enzymes cleave the phosphodiester bond of double-stranded DNA. They can cleave at the center of both DNA strands, resulting in blunt ends, or at a staggered position, leaving overhangs known as sticky ends. These enzymes are the most commonly available and widely used restriction enzymes.
  • In the 1990s and early 2000s, new enzymes belonging to the Type II family were discovered that exhibited deviations from the classical criteria of this enzyme class. As a result, a new subfamily nomenclature was developed to categorize this diverse group based on variations in their characteristics. These subgroups are designated using a letter suffix.
  • Type IIB restriction enzymes, such as BcgI and BplI, consist of multiple subunits and cleave DNA on both sides of their recognition sequence, removing the recognition site from the DNA. These enzymes require both AdoMet and Mg2+ as cofactors.
  • Type IIE restriction endonucleases, such as NaeI, interact with two copies of their recognition sequence. One site acts as the target for cleavage, while the other acts as an allosteric effector, enhancing the efficiency of enzyme cleavage.
  • Type IIF restriction endonucleases, exemplified by NgoMIV, also interact with two copies of their recognition sequence but cleave both sites simultaneously.
  • Type IIG restriction endonucleases, including RM.Eco57I, consist of a single subunit similar to classical Type II enzymes but require AdoMet as a cofactor for their activity.
  • Type IIM restriction endonucleases, like DpnI, have the ability to recognize and cleave methylated DNA.
  • Type IIS restriction endonucleases, such as FokI, cleave DNA at a specific distance from their non-palindromic asymmetric recognition sites. This characteristic is frequently utilized in in-vitro cloning techniques like Golden Gate cloning. These enzymes can function as dimers.
  • Similarly, Type IIT restriction enzymes, for instance, Bpu10I and BslI, are composed of two different subunits. Some recognize palindromic sequences, while others have asymmetric recognition sites.
  • In summary, Type II restriction enzymes represent a diverse group with various subcategories based on their characteristics and functionalities. These enzymes have played a crucial role in molecular biology research and applications, including DNA manipulation, genetic engineering, and gene cloning techniques.

Type lII Restriction Enzymes

  • Type III restriction enzymes, such as EcoP15, are a unique category of enzymes that recognize two separate non-palindromic DNA sequences that are oriented in an inverse manner. These enzymes cleave the DNA about 20-30 base pairs downstream from the recognition site. Type III enzymes consist of multiple subunits and require both AdoMet (S-Adenosyl methionine) and ATP as cofactors for their respective roles in DNA methylation and restriction digestion.
  • Type III restriction enzymes are part of prokaryotic DNA restriction-modification systems that serve to protect the organism against foreign DNA invasion. They are hetero-oligomeric proteins composed of two subunits: Res and Mod. The Mod subunit recognizes the specific DNA sequence targeted by the system and functions as a modification methyltransferase, adding methyl groups to the DNA. This is analogous to the methylase activity of Type I restriction enzymes’ M and S subunits. On the other hand, the Res subunit is responsible for the restriction digestion process, although it does not possess enzymatic activity on its own.
  • Type III enzymes recognize short, asymmetric DNA sequences that are typically 5-6 base pairs long. They cleave the DNA approximately 25-27 base pairs downstream from the recognition site, resulting in short, single-stranded 5′ protrusions. For restriction digestion to occur, Type III enzymes require the presence of two inversely oriented recognition sites that are not methylated. These enzymes methylate only one strand of the DNA, specifically at the N-6 position of adenyl residues. This means that after DNA replication, only one strand of the newly synthesized DNA will be methylated, which is sufficient to protect it from restriction digestion.
  • Type III restriction enzymes belong to the beta-subfamily of N6 adenine methyltransferases and exhibit the characteristic motifs found in this family. These motifs include the AdoMet binding pocket (FXGXG) in motif I and the catalytic region (S/D/N (PP) Y/F) in motif IV.
  • In summary, Type III restriction enzymes play a crucial role in prokaryotic DNA restriction-modification systems. They possess both methylation and restriction digestion activities and exhibit a unique recognition mechanism with inverse-oriented recognition sites. Understanding the mechanisms and characteristics of Type III enzymes contributes to our knowledge of DNA protection and modification processes in prokaryotes.

Type lV Restriction Enzymes

  • Type IV restriction enzymes represent a distinct category of enzymes that recognize and target modified DNA, particularly DNA that has been methylated. The McrBC and Mrr systems of E. coli are examples of Type IV enzymes.
  • These enzymes have evolved to detect and cleave DNA molecules containing specific modifications, such as methylation. Unlike other types of restriction enzymes that recognize specific DNA sequences, Type IV enzymes recognize specific modifications on the DNA molecule, which can serve as markers for distinguishing foreign DNA from the host’s own DNA.
  • The McrBC system, found in E. coli, is involved in the protection against foreign DNA invasion. It recognizes methylated DNA and cuts it at specific recognition sites, resulting in DNA fragmentation. This system acts as a defense mechanism by destroying foreign DNA that lacks the appropriate methylation patterns, while allowing the host DNA, which is properly methylated, to remain intact.
  • The Mrr system, also present in E. coli, is another example of a Type IV restriction enzyme. It targets DNA molecules that contain certain types of modified bases. The Mrr enzyme cleaves DNA at or near these modified bases, effectively restricting the propagation of DNA with specific modifications.
  • Type IV restriction enzymes play an important role in bacterial defense mechanisms and protection against foreign genetic material. By recognizing and cleaving modified DNA, these enzymes contribute to maintaining the integrity and stability of the bacterial genome. Their ability to discriminate between modified and unmodified DNA provides a mechanism for the host bacterium to distinguish between self and non-self DNA, protecting against potentially harmful genetic material.
  • Overall, Type IV restriction enzymes offer a specialized defense strategy by targeting modified DNA, such as methylated DNA, and participating in the restriction of foreign genetic material in bacterial systems.

Type V Restriction Enzymes

  • Type V restriction enzymes represent a unique class of enzymes that utilize guide RNAs (gRNAs) to target and cleave specific non-palindromic DNA sequences, typically found on invading organisms. One prominent example of a Type V restriction enzyme is the Cas9-gRNA complex derived from CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) systems.
  • These enzymes function through a two-component system consisting of the Cas9 protein and a guide RNA molecule. The guide RNA contains a sequence complementary to the target DNA region and guides the Cas9 protein to the specific site for cleavage. Unlike other types of restriction enzymes that recognize specific DNA sequences directly, Type V enzymes can be programmed to target a wide range of sequences by simply modifying the guide RNA.
  • The Cas9-gRNA complex can induce a double-strand break at the target DNA site, which can then be repaired by the cell’s own DNA repair machinery, either through non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) or homology-directed repair (HDR). This ability to introduce precise changes in the DNA sequence has revolutionized genetic engineering and has made Type V restriction enzymes, particularly the CRISPR-Cas9 system, a powerful tool for genome editing and manipulation.
  • The flexibility and ease of use of Type V restriction enzymes have garnered significant attention and have opened up numerous possibilities for applications in various fields, including basic research, biotechnology, and medicine. Their programmable nature allows scientists to target specific genes or regions of interest with high precision, enabling the modification, deletion, or insertion of DNA sequences. This has facilitated advancements in gene editing, gene regulation, disease modeling, and potential therapeutic interventions.
  • The development and utilization of Type V restriction enzymes, particularly the CRISPR-Cas9 system, have revolutionized the field of genetic engineering, offering unprecedented control over DNA manipulation. Ongoing research continues to enhance the efficiency, specificity, and versatility of these enzymes, further expanding their applications and potential impact on various scientific and medical endeavors.

Artificial restriction enzymes

  • Artificial restriction enzymes have emerged as powerful tools in genetic engineering and molecular biology research. These enzymes are generated by fusing a DNA-binding domain, either natural or engineered, to a nuclease domain, often derived from the cleavage domain of the type IIS restriction enzyme FokI.
  • By combining the DNA-binding specificity of the fused domain with the cleavage activity of the nuclease domain, artificial restriction enzymes can be designed to target specific DNA sequences of interest. Unlike natural restriction enzymes, which typically recognize palindromic DNA sequences, artificial restriction enzymes offer greater flexibility and can be engineered to bind to desired DNA sequences, including large sites of up to 36 base pairs.
  • One widely used type of artificial restriction enzyme is the zinc finger nuclease (ZFN). Zinc finger nucleases consist of a DNA-binding domain composed of zinc finger motifs fused to the FokI nuclease domain. The DNA-binding specificity of zinc finger nucleases can be customized by engineering the zinc finger domains to recognize specific DNA sequences. These artificial restriction enzymes have found extensive applications in genetic engineering, allowing researchers to precisely target and modify specific genes or genomic regions.
  • Another class of artificial restriction enzymes is based on the DNA-binding domain of TAL (transcription activator-like) effectors. TAL effector nucleases (TALENs) are constructed by fusing TAL effector DNA-binding domains to the FokI nuclease domain. Similar to ZFNs, TALENs can be engineered to target specific DNA sequences, enabling precise genome editing.
  • In recent years, the CRISPR-Cas9 system has revolutionized the field of genome editing. Although initially derived from a prokaryotic viral defense system, CRISPR-Cas9 has been engineered into a versatile tool for DNA manipulation. Cas9, the nuclease component of the CRISPR-Cas9 system, can be guided to specific DNA sequences by a short RNA molecule, known as the guide RNA. This RNA-guided DNA targeting ability has led to the development of artificial restriction enzymes based on the CRISPR-Cas9 system. CRISPR-Cas9-derived artificial restriction enzymes offer simplicity, efficiency, and versatility in genome editing applications.
  • Furthermore, artificial ribonucleases have also been developed to act as restriction enzymes for RNA. These include PNAzymes (peptide nucleic acid enzymes) that mimic ribonucleases for specific RNA sequences. PNAzymes utilize a Cu(II)-2,9-dimethylphenanthroline group to cleave RNA at non-base-paired regions, such as RNA bulges, when the enzyme binds to the targeted RNA. This selective RNA cleavage ability opens up possibilities for targeted RNA manipulation and RNA-based therapeutic applications.
  • The development of artificial restriction enzymes and ribonucleases has significantly expanded the repertoire of tools available for DNA and RNA manipulation. These artificial enzymes offer increased customization, target specificity, and versatility, providing researchers with powerful means to study gene function, perform precise genome editing, and explore therapeutic interventions. Continued advancements in this field are likely to drive further innovations and applications in genetic engineering and molecular biology.

Applications of Restriction Enzymes/Function of restriction enzymes

Restriction enzymes have a wide range of applications in molecular biology and genetic engineering. Here are some key applications:

  1. Gene Cloning and Protein Production: Restriction enzymes play a crucial role in gene cloning experiments. They are used to cut both the plasmid vector and the gene of interest with the same restriction enzymes. The cut ends of the DNA fragments are then joined together using DNA ligase, creating recombinant DNA molecules. This technique allows the insertion of genes into plasmid vectors, enabling the production of proteins of interest.
  2. Genotyping Single-Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs): Restriction enzymes can be used to identify single base changes in DNA known as SNPs. If a SNP alters the restriction site present in a specific allele, the enzyme can be used to genotype the DNA sample. After digestion with the restriction enzyme, the DNA fragments of different sizes are separated by gel electrophoresis. The presence or absence of specific bands indicates the genotype at the SNP site, providing a cost-effective alternative to gene sequencing.
  3. DNA Fingerprinting: Restriction enzymes are utilized in DNA fingerprinting techniques. By digesting genomic DNA with specific restriction enzymes, different individuals can produce unique patterns of DNA fragments. These patterns, visualized through gel electrophoresis, can be used to identify individuals or determine genetic relatedness.
  4. Southern Blotting: Southern blotting is a technique that utilizes restriction enzymes to analyze gene copy number and genetic variations. Genomic DNA is digested with restriction enzymes, and the resulting fragments are separated by gel electrophoresis. The fragments are then transferred to a membrane and hybridized with specific DNA probes to identify the presence, absence, or alterations in specific genes or regions of the genome.
  5. Artificial Restriction Enzymes for Genome Editing: Artificial restriction enzymes, such as zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) and CRISPR-Cas9, have been developed for precise genome editing. These enzymes can be engineered to target specific DNA sequences, allowing for targeted gene modifications, including gene knockout, gene insertion, or gene correction. These tools have revolutionized genetic engineering and hold great potential for various applications, including gene therapy and disease research.
  6. Antiviral Strategies: The bacterial restriction-modification (R-M) system, which includes restriction enzymes, has been proposed as a model for developing antiviral strategies in humans. Research is underway to explore the use of restriction enzymes and zinc finger nucleases to cleave the DNA of human viruses, such as HIV-1 and herpes simplex virus (HSV-2). The aim is to induce targeted mutagenesis and disrupt the replication of these viruses.

Applications of Type II Restriction Endonucleases

Type II restriction endonucleases have found wide-ranging applications in molecular biology due to their ability to cleave DNA at specific recognition sites with exceptional precision. These enzymes exhibit a remarkable discrimination, cleaving their target sequences even when they differ by just a single base pair. This high specificity has made them invaluable tools in various areas of research and analysis.

One major application of Type II restriction endonucleases is in the analysis of DNA molecules. When DNA is digested with one or more restriction enzymes, it produces a distinct series of DNA fragments known as restriction fragments. These fragments can be separated by gel electrophoresis through agarose or polyacrylamide gels, and their sizes can be compared. By analyzing the pattern of fragment sizes, researchers can construct a map showing the relative positions of each restriction site. Since different permutations of sites will produce different sets of fragments, this technique allows for the characterization of genomes and the identification of defective alleles, a method known as restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP). RFLP analysis has also been instrumental in DNA fingerprinting, a forensic method used to determine genetic identity.

Furthermore, the fragmentation of chromosomal DNA by Type II restriction endonucleases has played a crucial role in genome sequencing efforts. For instance, in the initial drafts of the human genome sequence, individual restriction fragments were sequenced and assembled to create the overall genome sequence. The precise and predictable cleavage patterns generated by these enzymes have facilitated the fragmentation process, allowing for the efficient sequencing of large DNA molecules.

Type II restriction endonucleases cleave DNA by breaking phosphodiester bonds, resulting in fragments with 5′-phosphate and 3′-hydroxyl groups. These termini can be joined together covalently through the action of DNA ligase. In cases where the ends of the fragments have complementary 5′ or 3′ extensions, known as sticky ends, they can be held together noncovalently by base pairing. The subsequent addition of DNA ligase then covalently joins the fragments. This property has been extensively utilized in the construction of recombinant DNA molecules. Researchers can anneal restriction fragments with complementary sticky ends, generated by the same enzyme or different enzymes, to create recombinant DNA molecules with desired genetic sequences.

In summary, Type II restriction endonucleases have revolutionized molecular biology through their precise DNA cleavage capabilities. Their applications range from genome characterization and mapping to DNA fingerprinting and genome sequencing. By generating distinct restriction fragments and facilitating the construction of recombinant DNA molecules, these enzymes have become indispensable tools in the field of molecular biology.

How restriction enzymes recognize dna sequences?

Restriction enzymes recognize specific DNA sequences through a process known as sequence-specific recognition. The recognition is based on the specific base pair arrangement in the target DNA sequence.

The DNA recognition sequence for each restriction enzyme is typically a short, palindromic sequence of nucleotides. Palindromic means that the sequence reads the same on both strands when read in the 5′ to 3′ direction. For example, the recognition sequence for the restriction enzyme EcoRI is 5′-GAATTC-3′, which is the same on both DNA strands when read in the 5′ to 3′ direction.

Restriction enzymes have a specific protein structure that allows them to bind to these recognition sequences. They have a DNA-binding domain that interacts with the DNA molecule and a catalytic domain that carries out the enzymatic activity, which is usually cleaving the DNA at specific sites.

The DNA-binding domain of the restriction enzyme fits into the major groove of the DNA double helix. The amino acid residues within the DNA-binding domain form specific interactions with the DNA bases in the recognition sequence. Hydrogen bonding and van der Waals interactions occur between the amino acid residues and the DNA bases, providing a precise fit and stabilization of the enzyme-DNA complex.

The specificity of restriction enzymes in recognizing their target sequences is determined by the specific amino acid residues within the DNA-binding domain and their interactions with the DNA bases. Even a single amino acid change in the DNA-binding domain can alter the specificity of the enzyme and its ability to recognize and bind to the target DNA sequence.

Once the restriction enzyme recognizes and binds to its target DNA sequence, it can carry out its enzymatic activity, which is typically the cleavage of the DNA at specific sites within or near the recognition sequence.

It’s important to note that different restriction enzymes have different recognition sequences and specificities. This diversity allows researchers to selectively cut DNA at specific sites, enabling various applications in molecular biology and genetic engineering.

Examples of Restriction Enzymes

EnzymeSourceRecognition SequenceCut
EcoRIEscherichia coli5’GAATTC 3’CTTAAG5′—G AATTC—3′
3′—CTTAA G—5′
EcoRIIEscherichia coli5’CCWGG 3’GGWCC5′— CCWGG—3′
3′—GGWCC —5′
BamHIBacillus amyloliquefaciens5’GGATCC 3’CCTAGG5′—G GATCC—3′
3′—CCTAG G—5′
HindIIIHaemophilus influenzae5’AAGCTT 3’TTCGAA5′—A AGCTT—3′
3′—TTCGA A—5′
TaqIThermus aquaticus5’TCGA 3’AGCT5′—T CGA—3′
3′—AGC T—5′
NotINocardia otitidis5’GCGGCCGC 3’CGCCGGCG5′—GC GGCCGC—3′
HinFIHaemophilus influenzae5’GANTC 3’CTNAG5′—G ANTC—3′
3′—CTNA G—5′
Sau3AIStaphylococcus aureus5’GATC 3’CTAG5′— GATC—3′
3′—CTAG —5′
PvuII*Proteus vulgaris5’CAGCTG 3’GTCGAC5′—CAG CTG—3′
3′—GTC GAC—5′
SmaI*Serratia marcescens5’CCCGGG 3’GGGCCC5′—CCC GGG—3′
3′—GGG CCC—5′
HaeIII*Haemophilus aegyptius5’GGCC 3’CCGG5′—GG CC—3′
3′—CC GG—5′
HgaIHaemophilus gallinarum5’GACGC 3’CTGCG5′—NN NN—3′
3′—NN NN—5′
AluI*Arthrobacter luteus5’AGCT 3’TCGA5′—AG CT—3′
3′—TC GA—5′
EcoRV*Escherichia coli5’GATATC 3’CTATAG5′—GAT ATC—3′
3′—CTA TAG—5′
EcoP15IEscherichia coli5’CAGCAGN25NN 3’GTCGTCN25NN5′—CAGCAGN25 NN—3′
3′—GTCGTCN25NN —5′
KpnIKlebsiella pneumoniae5’GGTACC 3’CCATGG5′—GGTAC C—3′
3′—C CATGG—5′
PstIProvidencia stuartii5’CTGCAG 3’GACGTC5′—CTGCA G—3′
3′—G ACGTC—5′
SacIStreptomyces achromogenes5’GAGCTC 3’CTCGAG5′—GAGCT C—3′
3′—C TCGAG—5′
SalIStreptomyces albus5’GTCGAC 3’CAGCTG5′—G TCGAC—3′
3′—CAGCT G—5′
ScaI*Streptomyces caespitosus5’AGTACT 3’TCATGA5′—AGT ACT—3′
3′—TCA TGA—5′
SpeISphaerotilus natans5’ACTAGT 3’TGATCA5′—A CTAGT—3′
3′—TGATC A—5′
SphIStreptomyces phaeochromogenes5’GCATGC 3’CGTACG5′—GCATG C—3′
3′—C GTACG—5′
StuI*Streptomyces tubercidicus5’AGGCCT 3’TCCGGA5′—AGG CCT—3′
3′—TCC GGA—5′
XbaIXanthomonas badrii5’TCTAGA 3’AGATCT5′—T CTAGA—3′
3′—AGATC T—5′

* = blunt ends
N = C or G or T or A
W = A or T


What is the function of restriction endonucleases in bacteria?

The function of restriction endonucleases in bacteria is to protect the bacterial cell from foreign DNA, such as viral DNA or DNA from other organisms. These enzymes are part of a defense system known as the restriction-modification system.
The restriction-modification system consists of two components: the restriction enzymes (endonucleases) and the modification enzymes (methyltransferases). The restriction enzymes recognize and cleave specific DNA sequences, while the modification enzymes add methyl groups to the same DNA sequences, protecting them from being recognized and cleaved by the restriction enzymes.
When foreign DNA enters the bacterial cell, it is usually unmethylated, lacking the specific methyl groups that mark the bacterial DNA. The restriction endonucleases recognize these unmethylated foreign DNA molecules and cleave them at specific sites, typically within or near the recognition sequence.
By cleaving the foreign DNA, the restriction enzymes destroy or inactivate it, preventing the foreign DNA from replicating and potentially harming the bacterial cell. This defense mechanism helps protect the bacteria from infection by bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) and other foreign DNA.
In contrast, the bacterial DNA is protected from restriction enzymes because it is modified by the methyltransferases, which add methyl groups to the specific recognition sequences. This methylation prevents the restriction enzymes from recognizing and cleaving the bacterial DNA, allowing it to remain intact and functional.
Overall, the function of restriction endonucleases in bacteria is to provide a defense mechanism against foreign DNA, maintaining the integrity and stability of the bacterial genome.

What is restriction digestion?

Restriction digestion, also known as restriction endonuclease digestion, is a laboratory technique that utilizes restriction enzymes to cleave DNA molecules at specific recognition sites. Restriction enzymes are enzymes produced by bacteria as part of their defense mechanism against foreign DNA, such as viral DNA.
During restriction digestion, a specific DNA molecule, such as a plasmid or genomic DNA, is incubated with a suitable restriction enzyme. The restriction enzyme recognizes a particular DNA sequence, usually a short, specific sequence of nucleotides, and cuts the DNA at or near that sequence.
The recognition sites of restriction enzymes are often palindromic, meaning that the DNA sequence reads the same in both forward and reverse directions. For example, the recognition site for the restriction enzyme EcoRI is 5′-GAATTC-3′, which is palindromic. The enzyme binds to the DNA at this specific sequence and cleaves the phosphodiester bonds in the DNA backbone, resulting in the generation of two DNA fragments.
Restriction digestion can result in two types of DNA fragment ends: blunt ends and sticky ends. Blunt ends are generated when the restriction enzyme cuts the DNA molecule straight through both DNA strands at the recognition site, producing fragments with no overhanging nucleotides. On the other hand, sticky ends are produced when the restriction enzyme cuts the DNA in a staggered manner, creating fragments with short, single-stranded overhangs at the ends. These overhangs can be complementary to each other, allowing for the fragments to be easily joined together through base pairing.
The DNA fragments generated through restriction digestion can be further analyzed, manipulated, or used in various molecular biology techniques. For example, the fragments can be separated and visualized using gel electrophoresis, cloned into vectors for gene cloning and genetic engineering, used in DNA sequencing, or subjected to other downstream applications in molecular biology research.
Overall, restriction digestion is a fundamental technique that allows researchers to manipulate DNA molecules by precisely cutting them at specific sites using restriction enzymes, enabling a wide range of molecular biology experiments and applications.

Where does ecori cut?

EcoRI is a commonly used restriction enzyme derived from the bacterium Escherichia coli. It recognizes and cuts DNA at a specific DNA sequence known as the EcoRI recognition site. The EcoRI recognition site is a palindromic sequence, meaning it reads the same on both DNA strands when oriented in the 5′ to 3′ direction.
The EcoRI recognition site is:
EcoRI cuts the DNA at this site between the G and A nucleotides, specifically within the two central base pairs. This results in the generation of two DNA fragments with “sticky ends” that have single-stranded overhangs. The overhangs of the DNA fragments can base pair with complementary overhangs from other DNA fragments cut with the same enzyme, allowing for the fragments to be easily joined together through DNA ligation.
The specific cutting position of EcoRI within the recognition site is depicted as follows:
5′-G AATTC-3′ | | | ˅ 3′-CTTAA G-5′
The location of the cut site creates cohesive ends, with a 5′ overhang (3′-AATT) on one fragment and a complementary 3′ overhang (5′-TTAA) on the other fragment. These cohesive or sticky ends facilitate the subsequent ligation of DNA fragments, enabling the construction of recombinant DNA molecules.

What are restriction enzymes?

Restriction enzymes, also known as restriction endonucleases, are enzymes that recognize specific DNA sequences and cleave the DNA at or near those sequences. They are naturally found in bacteria and archaea as part of their defense mechanism against foreign DNA, such as viral DNA.

How do restriction enzymes recognize specific DNA sequences?

Restriction enzymes recognize specific DNA sequences through their binding sites, which are usually palindromic sequences. These enzymes scan the DNA molecule and bind to the specific recognition site, which is typically 4-8 nucleotides long. Once bound, the enzyme catalyzes the cleavage of the DNA backbone.

What is the significance of restriction enzymes in genetic engineering?

Restriction enzymes play a crucial role in genetic engineering. They are used to cut DNA at specific sites, allowing the insertion of desired genes into vectors (e.g., plasmids). By using restriction enzymes with compatible ends, scientists can join DNA fragments together to create recombinant DNA molecules for various applications, including gene cloning, genetic modification, and DNA sequencing.

What are the different types of restriction enzymes?

Restriction enzymes are classified into several types based on their characteristics, including Type I, Type II, Type III, Type IV, and Type V. Each type has distinct properties, such as recognition sequence, cleavage pattern, and cofactor requirements.

How are restriction enzymes named?

Restriction enzymes are named using a combination of abbreviations based on the source organism, followed by a Roman numeral indicating the order of discovery from that organism. For example, EcoRI is derived from Escherichia coli and was the first enzyme isolated from that organism.

Can restriction enzymes be used for DNA fingerprinting?

Yes, restriction enzymes are commonly used in DNA fingerprinting. By digesting genomic DNA with specific restriction enzymes, unique banding patterns are generated on a gel, allowing for the comparison and identification of individuals based on their DNA profiles.

Can restriction enzymes be modified or engineered?

Yes, restriction enzymes can be modified or engineered to alter their properties, such as specificity and cleavage efficiency. This can be achieved through protein engineering techniques, such as site-directed mutagenesis or fusion with other DNA-binding domains, to create artificial restriction enzymes with desired characteristics.


  • Davis, L. G., Dibner, M. D., & Battey, J. F. (1986). Restriction Endonucleases (REs) and Their Use. Basic Methods in Molecular Biology, 51–57. doi:10.1016/b978-0-444-01082-7.50021-7 
  • Szczelkun, M. D., & Halford, S. E. (2013). Restriction Endonuclease. Brenner’s Encyclopedia of Genetics, 184–189. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-374984-0.01313-9 
  • Roberts, R. J., Vincze, T., Posfai, J., & Macelis, D. (2015). REBASE—a database for DNA restriction and modification: enzymes, genes and genomes. Nucleic acids research, 43(D1), D298-D299.
  • Pingoud, A., & Jeltsch, A. (2001). Structure and function of type II restriction endonucleases. Nucleic acids research, 29(18), 3705-3727.
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  • Wilson, G. G., & Murray, N. E. (1991). Restriction and modification systems. Annual Review of Genetics, 25(1), 585-627.
  • Pingoud, A., & Jeltsch, A. (2005). Recognition and cleavage of DNA by type-II restriction endonucleases. European Journal of Biochemistry, 272(20), 4813-4827.
  • Roberts, R. J., & Halford, S. E. (1993). Type II restriction endonucleases. In Nucleases (pp. 35-88). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
  • Bickle, T. A., & Krüger, D. H. (1993). Biology of DNA restriction. Microbiological reviews, 57(3), 434-450.

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