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It is now fashionable to view the cell as an ensemble of molecular machines or motors working in concert. What exactly do we mean by employing these terms normally reserved for industry and engineering? Up to what point is the analogy drawn between man-made motors and Nature's molecular motors justified? When does this analogy become counterproductive? If one considers RNA polymerase, the analogy is evidently useful for helping ask the right questions about its function. How does a given RNA polymerase molecule cope with the various biochemical and biomechanical tasks it has to accomplish – physically translocating along DNA, acting as a faithful chemical replicator, and properly targeting biological “start” and “stop” signals along a given DNA sequence? These are some of the naïve questions posed and addressed within the ten chapters of this book.

Tackling these challenges and concisely reporting the present achievements and bottlenecks encountered in this venture requires both clarity and humility. We are very grateful to all the authors for their illuminating contributions, and for their compliance with our numerous requests.

We are also extremely grateful to David Lilley for having offered us the opportunity to publish this book in the prestigious collection of the RSC Biomolecular Science series. It has been a pleasure working with Janet Freshwater and Annie Jacob of the Royal Society of Chemistry and we thank them for their support, patience and humor.

In Dante's Inferno there must exist a tiny, poorly-lit room where pale fellows frantically scratch at thick piles of papers while still receiving “final” versions, totally ruining their previous efforts. We have left Tantalus and Sisyphus there, thanks to our saviors, Marie-Héléne and Cary.

Henri Buc and Terence Strick

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