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J Bacteriol. 1991 Apr; 173(7): 2225–2230.
PMCID: PMC207771

First step toward a virus-derived vector for gene cloning and expression in spiroplasmas, organisms which read UGA as a tryptophan codon: synthesis of chloramphenicol acetyltransferase in Spiroplasma citri.


Spiroplasmas are wall-less procaryotes in which the UGA codon serves not as a stop signal but as a code for the amino acid tryptophan. Spiroplasma genes that contain UGA codons thus cannot be studied in the usual Escherichia coli cloning and expression systems. Although this problem can be circumvented by using UGA-suppressor strains of E. coli, spiroplasmas themselves would provide a more efficient cloning and expression host. We have now successfully employed the replicative form (RF) of a filamentous spiroplasma virus (SpV1) to clone and express the E. coli-derived chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) gene in Spiroplasma citri. The CAT gene was inserted in one of the four intergenic regions of the SpV1 RF and introduced into cells by electroporation. Both the RF and the virion DNA produced by the transfected cells contained the CAT gene sequences. Northern blot analysis, primer extension, and S1 mapping showed that transcription of the CAT gene started from a promoter located on the SpV1 RF and was terminated downstream of the CAT gene, still within the viral RF. Expression of the CAT gene was demonstrated by acetylation of chloramphenicol by cell-free extracts from the transfected spiroplasmas.

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