Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Proving the genetic code's flexibility

01.04.2016

Researchers show deviations in an amino acid's code can occur naturally

Four letters - A, C, G and T - stand in for the four chemical bases that store information in DNA. A sequence of these same four letters, repeating in a particular order, genetically defines an organism. Within the genome sequence are shorter, three-letter codons that represent one of the 20 regularly used amino acids, with three of the possible 64 three-letter codons reserved for stop signals.


Starting from the four innermost letters and working to the outermost ring, this table shows shows which three-letter base sequence or codon encodes which amino acid. In the journal Angewandte Chemie International Ed., researchers from the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, and Yale University have discovered that microorganisms recognize more than one codon for the rare, genetically encoded amino acid selenocysteine.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

These amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that carry out a myriad of functions. For example, the amino acid alanine can be represented by the three-letter codon GCU and the amino acid cysteine by the three-letter codon UGU. In some organisms, the three-letter codon UGA, which normally signals the end of a protein-coding gene, is hijacked to code for a rare genetically encoded amino acid called selenocysteine.

Published ahead online March 16, 2016 in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Ed., researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, and Yale University have discovered that microorganisms recognize more than one codon for selenocysteine. The finding adds credence to recent studies indicating that an organism's genetic vocabulary is not as constrained as had been long held.

The work is a follow-up to two 2014 publications; a Science paper by the JGI group finding that some organisms interpret the three "stop" codons which terminate translation to mean anything but. A synthetic biology experiment of the Yale group published in an Angewandte Chemie International Ed. paper revealed the astonishing fact that almost all codons in Escherichia coli could be replaced by selenocysteine. This posed the question whether the same phenomenon can also occur in nature.

"Access to the tremendous resources at the JGI allowed us to quickly test challenging hypotheses generated from my research projects that have been supported over the long-term by DOE Basic Energy Sicences and the National Institutes of Health," said Dieter Soll, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Professor of Chemistry at Yale, the lead author of the paper.

Thus a fruitful collaboration resulted; the combined team scanned trillions of base pairs of public microbial genomes and unassembled metagenome data in the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the DOE JGI's Integrated Microbial Genomes (IMG) data management system to find stop codon reassignments in bacteria and bacteriophages. Delving into genomic data from uncultured microbes afforded researchers the opportunity to learn more about how microbes behave in their natural environments, which in turn provides information on their management of the various biogeochemical cycles that help maintain the Earth.

From approximately 6.4 trillion bases of metagenomic sequence and 25,000 microbial genomes, the team identified several species that recognize the stop codons UAG and UAA, in addition to 10 sense codons, as acceptable variants for the selenocysteine codon UGA.

The findings, the team reported, "opens our minds to the possible existence of other coding schemes... Overall our approach provides new evidence of a limited but unequivocal plasticity of the genetic code whose secrets still lie hidden in the majority of unsequenced organisms."

This finding also illustrates the context-dependency of the genetic code, that accurately "reading" the code (and interpreting DNA sequences) and ultimately "writing" DNA (synthesizing sequences to carry out defined functions in bioenergy or environmental sciences) will require study of the language of DNA past the introductory course level.

###

This work was enabled by resources from the DOE Joint Genome Institute's Community Science Program (CSP). The CSP annual call for letters of intent are due April 7 and is focused on large-scale sequence-based genomic science projects that address questions of relevance to DOE missions in sustainable biofuel production, global carbon cycling, and biogeochemistry. For more information, see: http://bit.ly/CSP-2017. Additional support was provided by grants from the National Institute for General Medical Sciences (GM22854 to D.S.) and from the DOE Office of Science (DE-FG02- 98ER20311 to D.S.; for funding the genetic experiments). The U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, a DOE Office of Science User Facility, was supported under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231.

David Gilbert | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Angewandte Chemie DNA Energy acid amino amino acid amino acids genetic code genomic

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Ageless ears? Elderly barn owls do not become hard of hearing
26.09.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg

nachricht eTRANSAFE – collaborative research project aimed at improving safety in drug development process
26.09.2017 | Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The fastest light-driven current source

Controlling electronic current is essential to modern electronics, as data and signals are transferred by streams of electrons which are controlled at high speed. Demands on transmission speeds are also increasing as technology develops. Scientists from the Chair of Laser Physics and the Chair of Applied Physics at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have succeeded in switching on a current with a desired direction in graphene using a single laser pulse within a femtosecond ¬¬ – a femtosecond corresponds to the millionth part of a billionth of a second. This is more than a thousand times faster compared to the most efficient transistors today.

Graphene is up to the job

Im Focus: LaserTAB: More efficient and precise contacts thanks to human-robot collaboration

At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.

Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Goodbye, login. Hello, heart scan

26.09.2017 | Information Technology

The material that obscures supermassive black holes

26.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Ageless ears? Elderly barn owls do not become hard of hearing

26.09.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>