Methods for competitive enrichment and evaluation of superior DNA ligases

Methods Enzymol. 2020:644:209-225. doi: 10.1016/bs.mie.2020.04.061. Epub 2020 May 20.


DNA ligases have numerous applications in molecular biology and biotechnology. However, many of these applications require the ligation of blunt-ended DNA termini, which is an inefficient activity for existing commercial ligases. To address this limitation, we describe a compartmentalised self-replication protocol that enables enrichment of the most active ligase variants from an arrayed gene library, e.g., for directed evolution. This protocol employs microwell cultures of Escherichia coli cells expressing individual ligase gene variants as both a source of template DNA to generate blunt-ended linear plasmid amplicons, and a source of expressed ligase to circularise its own plasmid amplicon. Transformation of E. coli with the pooled ligation products enables enrichment for clones expressing the most active ligase variants over successive rounds. To facilitate the evaluation of selected ligases, we also describe an in vitro ligation protocol utilising fluorescently labelled, phosphorylated oligonucleotides that are resolved by electrophoresis on a denaturing acrylamide gel to separate the substrate and product bands resulting from blunt-ended, cohesive-ended or nick-sealing ligations.

Keywords: Compartmentalised self-replication; DNA ligase; Directed evolution; Gel-based assay; Screening; Selection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA Ligases* / genetics
  • Escherichia coli* / genetics
  • Gene Library
  • Ligases
  • Plasmids


  • Ligases
  • DNA Ligases