|Translation Rates For Protein Production Discovered In Genetic Code|
|SciMed - Biology|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Friday, 30 March 2012 02:00|
San Francisco, CA, USA. Gene activity measurements inside living cells has uncovered redundancy in the genetic code allows the same protein to be translated at different rates.
A science team at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) used their technique called ribosome profiling, which enables the measurement of gene activity inside living cells including the speed with which proteins are made.
A Codon Primer
All life on earth relies on the storage of genetic information in DNA (or for some viruses, RNA) and the expression of that DNA into proteins to build the components of cells and carry out genetic instructions.
Every living cell in every tissue inside every organism on Earth is constantly expressing genes and translating them into proteins. A significant amount of the energy from the fuels we burn can be traced to this fundamental process.
The is a universal set of instructions for translating DNA into proteins. DNA genes are composed of four types of molecules, known as bases or nucleotides (A, G, T and C).
Proteins are strings of 20 different types of amino acids and the genetic code specifies gene expression by reading groups of three letters of DNA at a time for every amino acid in a protein. The triplets are called codons. Since there are 64 possible ways to arrange three bases of DNA together and only 20 amino acids are used by life, the number of codons exceeds demand. Several of these 64 codons code for the same amino acid.
Scientists have known about this redundancy for 50 years, but with the decoding of more genomes from creatures as diverse as domestic dogs to wild rice, it is clear that not all redundant codons are equal. Many organisms have a clear preference for one type of codon over another, even though the end result is the same.
The research answered this question: if redundant codons do the same thing, why would nature prefer one to the other?By measuring the rate of protein production in bacteria, the research team discovered that slight genetic alterations could have a dramatic effect. This was true even for seemingly insignificant genetic changes known as silent mutations, which swap out a single DNA letter without changing the ultimate gene product. To their surprise, the scientists found that these changes can slow the protein production process to one-tenth of its normal speed or less.
As described in the journal Nature, the speed change is caused by information contained in what are known as redundant codons small pieces of DNA that form part of the genetic code. They were called "redundant" because they were previously thought to contain duplicative rather than unique instructions.
This new discovery challenges half a century of fundamental assumptions in biology. It may also help speed up the industrial production of proteins, which is crucial for making biofuels and biological drugs used to treat many common diseases, ranging from diabetes to cancer.
"The genetic code has been thought to be redundant, but redundant codons are clearly not identical," said Jonathan Weissman, PhD, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator in the UCSF School of Medicine, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology.
"We didn't understand much about the rules," he added, but the new work suggests nature selects among redundant codons based on genetic speed as well as genetic meaning.
Similarly, a person texting a message to a friend might opt to type, "NP" instead of "No problem." They both mean the same thing, but one is faster to thumb than the other.
How Ribosome Profiling Works
The work addresses an observation scientists have long made that the process protein synthesis, so essential to all living organisms on Earth, is not smooth and uniform, but rather proceeds in fits and starts. Some unknown mechanism seemed to control the speed with which proteins are made, but nobody knew what it was.
To find out, Weissman and UCSF postdoctoral researcher Gene-Wei Li, PhD, drew upon a broader past effort by Weissman and his colleagues to develop a novel laboratory technique called ribosome profiling, which allows scientists to examine universally which genes are active in a cell and how fast they are being translated into proteins.
Ribosome profiling takes account of gene activity by pilfering from a cell all the molecular machines known as ribosomes. Typical bacterial cells are filled with hundreds of thousands of these ribosomes, and human cells have even more. They play a key role in life by translating genetic messages into proteins. Isolating them and pulling out all their genetic material allows scientists to see what proteins a cell is making and where they are in the process.
Weissman and Li were able to use this technique to measure the rate of protein synthesis by looking statistically at all the genes being expressed in a bacterial cell.
They found that proteins made from genes containing particular sequences (referred to technically as Shine-Dalgarno sequences) were produced more slowly than identical proteins made from genes with different but redundant codons. They showed that they could introduce pauses into protein production by introducing such sequences into genes.
What the scientists hypothesize is that the pausing exists as part of a regulatory mechanism that ensures proper checks so that cells don't produce proteins at the wrong time or in the wrong abundance.
FundingThis work was supported by the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation and by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
CitationThe anti-Shine-Dalgarno sequence drives translational pausing and codon choice in bacteria. Gene-Wei Li, Eugene Oh, and Jonathan S. Weissman. Nature 2012. doi:10.1038/nature10965
Protein synthesis by ribosomes takes place on a linear substrate but at non-uniform speeds. Transient pausing of ribosomes can affect a variety of co-translational processes, including protein targeting and folding. These pauses are influenced by the sequence of the messenger RNA. Thus, redundancy in the genetic code allows the same protein to be translated at different rates. However, our knowledge of both the position and the mechanism of translational pausing in vivo is highly limited. Here we present a genome-wide analysis of translational pausing in bacteria by ribosome profiling deep sequencing of ribosome-protected mRNA fragments. This approach enables the high-resolution measurement of ribosome density profiles along most transcripts at unperturbed, endogenous expression levels. Unexpectedly, we found that codons decoded by rare transfer RNAs do not lead to slow translation under nutrient-rich conditions. Instead, Shine–Dalgarno-(SD)-like features within coding sequences cause pervasive translational pausing. Using an orthogonal ribosome possessing an altered anti-SD sequence, we show that pausing is due to hybridization between the mRNA and 16S ribosomal RNA of the translating ribosome. In protein-coding sequences, internal SD sequences are disfavoured, which leads to biased usage, avoiding codons and codon pairs that resemble canonical SD sites. Our results indicate that internal SD-like sequences are a major determinant of translation rates and a global driving force for the coding of bacterial genomes.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 29 March 2012 22:12|