Careless expression

Courtesy of Sigal Ben-Yehuda

The paper

M. Meyerovich et al., “Visualizing high error levels during gene expression in living bacterial cells,” Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 107:11543–48, 2010.

The finding

Bacteria are not perfect when deciphering DNA into proteins. Sigal Ben-Yehuda and colleagues at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that transcription and translation errors are more common than expected. Whether bacteria aren’t able to energetically afford error-correcting mechanisms, or they let errors creep in on purpose, ultimately more errors mean greater protein diversity, says Ben-Yehuda, potentially giving bacteria an opportunity to adapt to stressful environments.

The surprise

The authors introduced mutations in the gene for green fluorescent protein (GFP) that should render the protein nonfunctional. However, despite the mutation, a proportion of the population still produced functional GFP, suggesting that the transcription and translation machinery were not strictly following the DNA code. Error levels increased...

The follow up

Researchers repeated the experiment using a gene for antibiotic resistance, with similar results. The infidelity in transcription and translation could “actually contribute to bacterial robustness,” F1000 member Barbara Imperiali wrote in her review.

The future

Ben-Yehuda says the next step is to identify the genes that are involved in introducing or preventing translational and transcriptional errors.

F1000 evaluators: B. Imperiali (MIT) • H. Schellhorn (McMaster Univ.)• J. Moir (Univ. of York)

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