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J Bacteriol. 1988 Feb; 170(2): 736–743.
PMCID: PMC210716

Isolation and characterization of a selenium metabolism mutant of Salmonella typhimurium.


Selenium is a constituent in Escherichia coli of the anaerobic enzyme formate dehydrogenase in the form of selenocysteine. Selenium is also present in the tRNA of E. coli in the modified base 5-methylaminomethyl-2-selenouracil (mnm5Se2U). The pathways of bacterial selenium metabolism are largely uncharacterized, and it is unclear whether nonspecific reactions in the sulfur metabolic pathways may be involved. We demonstrated that sulfur metabolic pathway mutants retain a wild-type pattern of selenium incorporation, indicating that selenite (SeO32-) is metabolized entirely via selenium-specific pathways. To investigate the function of mnm5Se2U, we isolated a mutant which is unable to incorporate selenium into tRNA. This strain was obtained by isolating mutants lacking formate dehydrogenase activity and then screening for the inability to metabolize selenium. This phenotype is the result of a recessive mutation which appears to map in the general region of 21 min on the Salmonella typhimurium chromosome. A mutation in this gene, selA, thus has a pleiotropic effect of eliminating selenium incorporation into both protein and tRNA. The selA mutant appears to be blocked in a step of selenium metabolism after reduction, such as in the actual selenium insertion process. We showed that the absence of selenium incorporation into suppressor tRNA reduces the efficiency of suppression of nonsense codons in certain contexts and when wobble base pairing is required. Thus, one function of mnm5Se2U in tRNA may be in codon-anticodon interactions.

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