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The bar loci in the chromosome of bacteriophage lambda inhibit phage vegetative growth in bacteria defective for peptidyl-tRNA hydrolase (Pth). Expression of the bar regions results in accumulation of peptidyl-tRNA, inhibition of protein synthesis, and arrest of mutant cell growth. These effects have been ascribed to the expression of two-codon ORFs present in translatable sequences named ‘minigenes’ in the lambda bar regions. To investigate the nature, frequency, and distribution of minigenes in the phage genome, we conducted a survey of their location in lambda DNA. A short-fragment random genomic DNA library was constructed for the identification of clones inhibitory of Pth-defective cells (bar-like phenotype). Three new bar-like minigenes were identified in the library but only one was on the sense strand and it had a rare initiation codon. This result contrasted with the in silico identification of over a hundred putative minigenes using an ad hoc computer program on both strands of lambda DNA. Unlike bar constructs, most of the toxic constructed clones were also toxic to wild-type bacteria, thus suggesting a different inhibition mechanism. Sequence analysis of these cloned inserts showed that they harbored minigenes, mini-ORFs, gene starts, gene ends, or combinations thereof. Our data suggest that minigene-like sequences may, at least partly, account for toxicity in wild-type cells. We propose that clustering of minigenes at gene ends may play a role in gene expression. Other minigenes identified in silico were non-toxic. It is still an open question what the in vivo function of these and toxic minigenes might be.

Dra. Oviedo Norma Angélica