A novel fluorescent reporter sensitive to serine mis-incorporation Academic Article uri icon

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  • High-fidelity translation was considered a requirement for living cells. The frozen accident theory suggested that any deviation from the standard genetic code should result in the production of so much mis-made and non-functional proteins that cells cannot remain viable. Studies in bacterial, yeast, and mammalian cells show that significant levels of mistranslation (1-10% per codon) can be tolerated or even beneficial under conditions of oxidative stress. Single tRNA mutants, which occur naturally in the human population, can lead to amino acid mis-incorporation at a codon or set of codons. The rate or level of mistranslation can be difficult or impossible to measure in live cells. We developed a novel red fluorescent protein reporter that is sensitive to serine (Ser) mis-incorporation at proline (Pro) codons. The mCherry Ser151Pro mutant is efficiently produced in Escherichia coli but non-fluorescent. We demonstrated in cells and with purified mCherry protein that the fluorescence of mCherry Ser151Pro is rescued by two different tRNASer gene variants that were mutated to contain the Pro (UGG) anticodon. Ser mis-incorporation was confirmed by mass spectrometry. Remarkably, E. coli tolerated mistranslation rates of ~10% per codon with negligible reduction in growth rate. Conformational sampling simulations revealed that the Ser151Pro mutant leads to significant changes in the conformational freedom of the chromophore precursor, which is indicative of a defect in chromophore maturation. Together our data suggest that the mCherry Ser151 mutants may be used to report Ser mis-incorporation at multiple other codons, further expanding the ability to measure mistranslation in living cells.


  • Rozik, Peter
  • Szabla, Robert
  • Lant, Jeremy T
  • Kiri, Rashmi
  • Wright, David E
  • Junop, Murray
  • O’Donoghue, Patrick

publication date

  • December 31, 2022