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FEBS Lett. 2012 Jul 16;586(15):2057-64. doi: 10.1016/j.febslet.2012.02.002. Epub 2012 Feb 13.

Rewiring translation - Genetic code expansion and its applications.

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Institute for Microbiology and Genetics, Justus-von-Liebig Weg 11, Georg-August University Göttingen, 37077 Göttingen, Germany.


With few minor variations, the genetic code is universal to all forms of life on our planet. It is difficult to imagine that one day organisms might exist that use an entirely different code to translate the information of their genome. Recent developments in the field of synthetic biology, however, have opened the gate to their creation. The genetic code of several organisms has been expanded by the heterologous expression of evolved aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase/tRNA(CUA) pairs that mediate the incorporation of unnatural amino acids in response to amber codons. These UAAs introduce exciting new features into proteins, such as spectroscopic probes, UV-inducible crosslinkers, and functional groups for bioorthogonal conjugations or posttranslational modifications. Orthogonal ribosomes provide a parallel translational machinery in Escherichia coli that has lost its evolutionary constraints. Evolved variants of these ribosomes translate amber or quadruplet codons with massively enhanced efficiency. Here, I review these recent developments emphasizing their tremendous potential to facilitate biochemical and cell biological studies.

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