Journal of the American Chemical Society

Semisynthetic tRNA complement mediates in vitro protein synthesis.

PMID 25822136


Genetic code expansion is a key objective of synthetic biology and protein engineering. Most efforts in this direction are focused on reassigning termination or decoding quadruplet codons. While the redundancy of genetic code provides a large number of potentially reassignable codons, their utility is diminished by the inevitable interaction with cognate aminoacyl-tRNAs. To address this problem, we sought to establish an in vitro protein synthesis system with a simplified synthetic tRNA complement, thereby orthogonalizing some of the sense codons. This quantitative in vitro peptide synthesis assay allowed us to analyze the ability of synthetic tRNAs to decode all of 61 sense codons. We observed that, with the exception of isoacceptors for Asn, Glu, and Ile, the majority of 48 synthetic Escherichia coli tRNAs could support protein translation in the cell-free system. We purified to homogeneity functional Asn, Glu, and Ile tRNAs from the native E. coli tRNA mixture, and by combining them with synthetic tRNAs, we formulated a semisynthetic tRNA complement for all 20 amino acids. We further demonstrated that this tRNA complement could restore the protein translation activity of tRNA-depleted E. coli lysate to a level comparable to that of total native tRNA. To confirm that the developed system could efficiently synthesize long polypeptides, we expressed three different sequences coding for superfolder GFP. This novel semisynthetic translation system is a powerful tool for tRNA engineering and potentially enables the reassignment of at least 9 sense codons coding for Ser, Arg, Leu, Pro, Thr, and Gly.