Measuring Amber Initiator tRNA Orthogonality in a Genomically Recoded Organism

ACS Synth Biol. 2019 Apr 19;8(4):675-685. doi: 10.1021/acssynbio.9b00021. Epub 2019 Mar 15.


Using engineered initiator tRNA for precise control of protein translation within cells has great promise within future orthogonal translation systems to decouple housekeeping protein metabolism from that of engineered genetic systems. Previously, E. coli strain C321.ΔA. exp lacking all UAG stop codons was created, freeing this "amber" stop codon for other purposes. An engineered "amber initiator" tRNACUAfMet that activates translation at UAG codons is available, but little is known about this tRNA's orthogonality. Here, we combine for the first time the amber initiator tRNACUAfMet in C321.ΔA. exp and measure its cellular effects. We found that the tRNACUAfMet expression resulted in a nearly 200-fold increase in fluorescent reporter expression with a unimodal population distribution and no apparent cellular fitness defects. Proteomic analysis revealed upregulated ribosome-associated, tRNA degradation, and amino acid biosynthetic proteins, with no evidence for off-target translation initiation. In contrast to previous work, we show that UAG-initiated proteins carry N-terminal methionine, but have no evidence for glutamine. Together, our results identify beneficial features of using the amber initiator tRNACUAfMet to control gene expression while also revealing fundamental challenges to using engineered initiator tRNAs as the basis for orthogonal translation initiation systems.

Keywords: amber suppression; orthogonality; start codon; tRNA; translation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acyl-tRNA Synthetases / genetics
  • Codon, Terminator / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Genetic Engineering / methods
  • Genomics / methods
  • Peptide Chain Initiation, Translational / genetics*
  • Proteomics / methods
  • RNA, Transfer / genetics*
  • RNA, Transfer, Met / genetics
  • Ribosomes / genetics


  • Codon, Terminator
  • RNA, Transfer, Met
  • RNA, Transfer
  • Amino Acyl-tRNA Synthetases