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1.  Complementation between inactive fragments of SssI DNA methyltransferase 
BMC Molecular Biology  2012;13:17.
Background
Silencing mammalian genes by targeted DNA (cytosine-5) methylation of selected CG sites in the genome would be a powerful technique to analyze epigenomic information and to study the roles of DNA methylation in physiological and pathological states. A promising approach of targeted DNA methylation is based on the ability of split fragments of a monomeric DNA methyltransferase (C5-MTase) to associate and form active enzyme. A few C5-MTases of different specificities have been shown to possess the ability of fragment complementation, but a demonstration of this phenomenon for a C5-MTase, which has CG specificity and thus can be targeted to methylate any CG site, has been lacking. The purpose of this study was to test whether the CG-specific prokaryotic C5-MTase M.SssI shows the phenomenon of fragment complementation.
Results
We show that truncated inactive N-terminal fragments of M.SssI can assemble with truncated inactive C-terminal fragments to form active enzyme in vivo when produced in the same E. coli cell. Overlapping and non-overlapping fragments as well as fragments containing short appended foreign sequences had complementation capacity. In optimal combinations C-terminal fragments started between conserved motif VIII and the predicted target recognizing domain of M.SssI. DNA methyltransferase activity in crude extracts of cells with the best complementing fragment pairs was ~ 4 per cent of the activity of cells producing the full length enzyme. Fusions of two N-terminal and two C-terminal fragments to 21.6 kDa zinc finger domains only slightly reduced complementation ability of the fragments.
Conclusions
The CG-specific DNA methyltransferase M.SssI shows the phenomenon of fragment complementation in vivo in E. coli. Fusion of the split fragments to six unit zinc finger domains does not substantially interfere with the formation of active enzyme. These observations and the large number of complementing fragment combinations representing a wide range of MTase activity offer the possibility to develop M.SssI into a programmable DNA methyltransferase of high specificity.
doi:10.1186/1471-2199-13-17
PMCID: PMC3404938  PMID: 22646482
SssI DNA methyltransferase; DNA methylation; 5-methylcytosine; Protein fragment complementation; Protein fusion; Zinc finger
2.  Low-mutation-rate, reduced-genome Escherichia coli: an improved host for faithful maintenance of engineered genetic constructs 
Background
Molecular mechanisms generating genetic variation provide the basis for evolution and long-term survival of a population in a changing environment. In stable, laboratory conditions, the variation-generating mechanisms are dispensable, as there is limited need for the cell to adapt to adverse conditions. In fact, newly emerging, evolved features might be undesirable when working on highly refined, precise molecular and synthetic biological tasks.
Results
By constructing low-mutation-rate variants, we reduced the evolutionary capacity of MDS42, a reduced-genome E. coli strain engineered to lack most genes irrelevant for laboratory/industrial applications. Elimination of diversity-generating, error-prone DNA polymerase enzymes involved in induced mutagenesis achieved a significant stabilization of the genome. The resulting strain, while retaining normal growth, showed a significant decrease in overall mutation rates, most notably under various stress conditions. Moreover, the error-prone polymerase-free host allowed relatively stable maintenance of a toxic methyltransferase-expressing clone. In contrast, the parental strain produced mutant clones, unable to produce functional methyltransferase, which quickly overgrew the culture to a high ratio (50% of clones in a 24-h induction period lacked functional methyltransferase activity). The surprisingly large stability-difference observed between the strains was due to the combined effects of high stress-induced mutagenesis in the parental strain, growth inhibition by expression of the toxic protein, and selection/outgrowth of mutants no longer producing an active, toxic enzyme.
Conclusions
By eliminating stress-inducible error-prone DNA-polymerases, the genome of the mobile genetic element-free E. coli strain MDS42 was further stabilized. The resulting strain represents an improved host in various synthetic and molecular biological applications, allowing more stable production of growth-inhibiting biomolecules.
doi:10.1186/1475-2859-11-11
PMCID: PMC3280934  PMID: 22264280
Escherichia coli; mutation rate; evolvability; reduced genome; synthetic biology; chassis
3.  In Vivo DNA Protection by Relaxed-Specificity SinI DNA Methyltransferase Variants▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2008;190(24):8003-8008.
The SinI DNA methyltransferase, a component of the SinI restriction-modification system, recognizes the sequence GG(A/T)CC and methylates the inner cytosine to produce 5-methylcytosine. Previously isolated relaxed-specificity mutants of the enzyme also methylate, at a lower rate, GG(G/C)CC sites. In this work we tested the capacity of the mutant enzymes to function in vivo as the counterpart of a restriction endonuclease, which can cleave either site. The viability of Escherichia coli cells carrying recombinant plasmids with the mutant methyltransferase genes and expressing the GGNCC-specific Sau96I restriction endonuclease from a compatible plasmid was investigated. The sau96IR gene on the latter plasmid was transcribed from the araBAD promoter, allowing tightly controlled expression of the endonuclease. In the presence of low concentrations of the inducer arabinose, cells synthesizing the N172S or the V173L mutant enzyme displayed increased plating efficiency relative to cells producing the wild-type methyltransferase, indicating enhanced protection of the cell DNA against the Sau96I endonuclease. Nevertheless, this protection was not sufficient to support long-term survival in the presence of the inducer, which is consistent with incomplete methylation of GG(G/C)CC sites in plasmid DNA purified from the N172S and V173L mutants. Elevated DNA ligase activity was shown to further increase viability of cells producing the V173L variant and Sau96I endonuclease.
doi:10.1128/JB.00754-08
PMCID: PMC2593204  PMID: 18849437
4.  Changing the recognition specificity of a DNA-methyltransferase by in vitro evolution 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(13):3898-3903.
The gene coding for the SinI DNA-methyltransferase, a modification enzyme able to recognize and methylate the internal cytosine of the GGA/TCC sequence, was subjected to in vitro mutagenesis, DNA-shuffling and a strong selection for relaxed GGNCC recognition specificity. As a result of this in vitro evolution experiment, a mutant gene with the required phenotype was selected. The mutant SinI methyltransferase carried five amino acid substitutions. None of these was found in the ‘variable region’ that were thought to be responsible for sequence specificity. Three were located near the N-terminal end, preceding the first conserved structural motif of the enzyme; two were found between conserved motifs VI and VII. A clone engineered to carry out only the latter two replacements (L214S and Y229H) displays relaxed recognition specificity similar to that of the parental mutant, whereas the clone carrying only the N-terminal replacements showed a much weaker change in recognition specificity. The enzyme with two internal mutations was purified and characterized. Its catalytic activity (kcat/Km) was ∼5-fold lower towards GGA/TCC and 20-fold higher towards GGG/CCC than that of the wild-type enzyme.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkh724
PMCID: PMC506809  PMID: 15273276

Results 1-4 (4)