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Biotechnol Bioeng. 2000 Apr 5;68(1):121-5.

Rapid in vivo evolution of a beta-lactamase using phagemids.

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Genencor International, Inc., 925 Page Mill Rd., Palo Alto, California 94304, USA.


RNA viruses are capable of undergoing extremely rapid evolution due to their high rates of reproduction, small genome size, and a high frequency of spontaneous mutagenesis. Here we demonstrate that a virus-like, evolutionary state can be created by propagating a phagemid population in a hypermutator strain of Escherichia coli in the presence of a helper phage. This enables one to subject individual phagemid-encoded genes to rapid in vivo evolution. We applied this approach to TEM-1 beta-lactamase which confers resistance to 0.05 mg/L of the antibiotic cefotaxime. After 3 weeks of in vivo evolution we were able to isolate a double mutant, E104K/G238S, of the enzyme which confers a 500-fold increased level of resistance to cefotaxime compared to the starting enzyme. In two independent experiments we obtained a triple mutant, E104K/G238S/T263M, which confers a 1000-fold increase in resistance compared to the wild type enzyme. The same three mutations have been previously observed in TEM-4 beta-lactamase which was discovered in a highly cefotaxime-resistant clinical isolate. The probability of randomly obtaining a beta-lactamase carrying three identical point mutations is less than 10(-10). This indicates that phagemid evolution can rapidly reproduce evolution occurring in nature.

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