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Science. 2013 Oct 18;342(6156):361-3. doi: 10.1126/science.1241460.

Probing the limits of genetic recoding in essential genes.

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  • 1Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Engineering radically altered genetic codes will allow for genomically recoded organisms that have expanded chemical capabilities and are isolated from nature. We have previously reassigned the translation function of the UAG stop codon; however, reassigning sense codons poses a greater challenge because such codons are more prevalent, and their usage regulates gene expression in ways that are difficult to predict. To assess the feasibility of radically altering the genetic code, we selected a panel of 42 highly expressed essential genes for modification. Across 80 Escherichia coli strains, we removed all instances of 13 rare codons from these genes and attempted to shuffle all remaining codons. Our results suggest that the genome-wide removal of 13 codons is feasible; however, several genome design constraints were apparent, underscoring the importance of a strategy that rapidly prototypes and tests many designs in small pieces.

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