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Chapter 8:

Recombinant DNA
Technology and
Molecular Cloning

Sometimes a good idea comes to you when you are not

looking for it. Through an improbable combination of
coincidences, naivet and lucky mistakes, such a
revelation came to me one Friday night in April, 1983, as
I gripped the steering wheel of my car and snaked along
a moonlit mountain road into northern Californias
redwood country. That was how I stumbled across a
process that could make unlimited numbers of copies of
genes, a process now known as the polymerase chain
reaction (PCR)
Kary B. Mullis, Scientific American (1990), 262:36

8.1 Introduction

The cornerstone of most molecular biology

technologies is the gene.
To facilitate the study of a genes:
Clone the gene by inserting it into another
DNA molecule that serves as a vehicle or
vector that can be replicated in living cells.

When two DNAs (the insert and vector) of

different origin are combined, the result is a
recombinant DNA molecule.
The recombinant DNA is placed in a host cell,
amplified, and purified for further analysis.

8.2 The beginnings of

recombinant DNA technology

Recombinant DNA technology arose

through the efforts of several research
groups working primarily on
bacteriophage lambda ().

Insights from bacteriophage lambda ()

cohesive sites
In 1962, Allan Campbell noted that the linear
genome of bacteriophage forms a circle upon
entering the host bacterial cell by joining
complementary single-stranded DNA cohesive
(cos) sites.
The idea of joining DNA segments by cohesive
sites became a guiding principle in the
development of recombinant DNA technology.

Insights from bacterial modification and

restriction systems
Salvador Luria and other phage workers
made the following observations:
Phages grown in one bacterial host fail to grow
in a different restrictive bacterial host.
The phage DNA is degraded in the restrictive

Rare progeny phages become modified in

some way so that they grow normally in the
new host.
The modification was reversible.
1962: The molecular basis of restriction and
modification was defined by Werner Arber and

Restriction system
Restriction endonucleases
First restriction endonuclease characterized in
E. coli K-12 by Matt Meselson and Bob Yuan.
Restrict or prevent viral infection by
degrading the invading nucleic acid.

Modification system
Methylase activity: Addition of methyl groups to
protect those sites in DNA sensitive to attack
by a restriction endonuclease.
Typically adenine methylation (6-methyl
Methylation pattern is maintained during DNA

The first cloning experiments

One of the first recombinant DNA molecules
was a hybrid of phage and the SV40
mammalian DNA virus genome.
1974: first eukaryotic gene was cloned.
Amplified ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes from
Xenopus laevis oocytes were cloned into a
bacterial plasmid.
The cloned frog genes were actively
transcribed into rRNA in E. coli.

I was tempted then to put together a book called

the Whole Risk Catalogue. It would contain risks
for old people and young people and so on. It
would be a very popular book in our semiparanoid society. Under D I would put dynamite,
dogs, doctors, dieldrin [an insecticide] and DNA. I
must confess to being more frightened of dogs.
But everyone has their own things to worry about.
James Watson, Genetics and Society (1993)

Fear of recombinant DNA molecules

1975: Recommendations from a landmark
meeting of molecular biologists formed the basis
for official guidelines developed by the National
Institutes of Health (NIH).
Activities involving the handling of recombinant
DNA and organisms must be conducted in
accordance with the NIH guidelines.
Four levels of risk are recognized, from minimal
to high.

8.3 Cutting and joining DNA

Two main categories of enzymes are

important tools in the preparation of
recombinant DNA
DNA ligases: join two pieces of DNA by forming
phosphodiester bonds.
Restriction endonucleases: recognize a
specific, rather short, nucleotide sequence on a
double-stranded DNA molecule, called a
restriction site, and cleave the DNA at this site
or elsewhere.

Major classes of
restriction endonucleases
Type II restriction endonucleases are
widely used by molecular biologists.
>240 available commercially.
6 bp cutters are the most commonly used.

Restriction endonucleases are named for

the organism in which they were

HindIII from Haemophilus influenza (strain d)

SmaI from Serratia marcescens
EcoRI from Escherichia coli (strain R)
BamHI from Bacillus amyloliquefaciens (strain

Recognition sequences for type II

restriction endonucleases
Orthodox type II restriction endonucleases
function as homodimers.
Recognition sequences are typically
Some enzymes generate sticky ends.
Some enzymes generate blunt ends.

Restriction endonucleases exhibit a great

degree of sequence specificity.
A single base pair change in the
recognition site eliminates enzymatic

The steps involved in restriction

endonuclease DNA binding and
1.The first contact is nonspecific binding:
Interaction with the DNA sugar-phosphate
backbone only.
Catalytic center kept at a safe distance.

2. Random walk:
Sliding over short distances of <30-50
bp to target restriction site.
Hopping or jumping over longer
3. Specific binding at restriction site:

Large conformational change of the enzyme

and DNA (coupling).
Activation of catalytic center.

EcoRI: kinking and cutting DNA

Common structural core of four conserved strands and one -helix.

Large conformational change in EcoRI and the

DNA upon specific binding.

A central kink in the DNA brings the critical

phosphodiester bond between G and A deeper
into the active site and unwinds the DNA.

In the presence of Mg2+, EcoRI cleaves the

DNA on both strands at the same time to give
free 5-phosphate and 3-OH ends.

The exact mechanism by which cleavage

occurs has not yet been proven

DNA ligase joins linear pieces of DNA

The DNA ligase most widely used in the lab is

from bacteriophage T4.

T4 DNA ligase catalyzes formation of a

phosphodiester bond between the 5phosphate of a nucleotide on one fragment of
DNA and the 3-hydroxyl of another.

T4 DNA ligase will ligate fragments with sticky

ends or blunt ends, but for blunt ends the
reaction is less efficient.

To increase the efficiency of ligation,

researchers often use the enzyme terminal
deoxynucleotidyl transferase to modify the
blunt ends.

8.4 Molecular cloning

Basic molecular cloning procedure

1. DNA fragments to be cloned are generated
using restriction endonucleases.
2. Fragments are ligated to other DNA
molecules that serve as vectors.
3. Recombinant DNA molecules are transferred
to a host cell.
4. Cloned recombinant DNA is recovered from
the host cell for analysis.

Choice of vector is dependent on insert

size and application
Cloning vectors are carrier DNA molecules
with four important features:
1. Replicate independently.
2. Contain a number of restriction endonuclease
cleavage sites that are present only once.
3. Carry a selectable marker.
4. Relatively easy to recover from host cell.

The greatest variety of cloning vectors has

been developed for use in E. coli.
The first practical skill generally required
by a molecular biologist is the ability to
grow pure cultures of bacteria.

Classic cloning vectors:


New generation vectors:

Bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs)
Yeast artificial chromosomes (YACs)
Mammalian artificial chromosomes (MACs)

Plasmid DNA as a vector

Plasmids are named with a system of uppercase
letters and numbers, where the lowercase p
stands for plasmid.
Low copy number plasmids: replicate to yield
only one or two copies in each bacterial cell.
High copy number plasmids: replicate to yield
>500 copies per bacterial cell.

Plasmid vectors are modified from naturally

occurring plasmids
Contain a specific antibiotic resistance gene.
Contain a multiple cloning site.

Five major steps for molecular cloning using

a plasmid vector
1. Construction of a recombinant DNA molecule.
2. Transfer of ligation reaction products to host
3. Multiplication of plasmid DNA molecules.
4. Division of host cells and selection of
recombinant clones, e.g. by blue-white
5. Amplification and purification of recombinant
plasmid DNA.

Transformation: transfer of recombinant

plasmid DNA to a bacterial host
Bacterial cells are incubated in a concentrated
calcium salt solution to make their membranes
The permeable competent cells are mixed with
DNA to allow DNA entry.
Alternatively, a process called electroporation
drives DNA into cells by a strong electric current.

Why isnt the introduced foreign plasmid

DNA degraded by a bacterial restrictionmodification system?

Recombinant selection
Antibiotic resistance selects for transformed
bacterial cells.
Numerous cell divisions of a single transformed
bacteria result in a clone of cells visible as a
bacterial colony on an agar plate.
Successfully transformed bacteria will carry
either recombinant or nonrecombinant plasmid

Blue-white screening

In the case of the vector pUC18, bluewhite screening is used to distinguish

recombinant from nonrecombinant
Also known as lac selection or complementation

-galactosidase activity can be used as an

indicator of the presence of foreign DNA
If the lacZ 5 region of pUC18 is not interrupted by
inserted foreign DNA, the amino-terminal portion
of -galactosidase is synthesized.
The mutant E. coli host encodes only the carboxyl
end of -galactosidase.

The N-terminal and C-terminal fragments come

together to form a functional enzyme.
-galactosidase activity can be measured using
a colorless chromogenic substrate called X-gal.
Cleavage of X-gal produces a blue-colored
product, visualized as a blue colony on an agar
If a foreign insert has disrupted the lacZ 5 coding
sequence, X-gal is not cleaved and the bacterial
colonies remain white.

Amplification and purification of recombinant

plasmid DNA
Further screening to confirm the presence and
orientation of the insert.
Amplify positive (white) colony containing
recombinant plasmid DNA in liquid culture.
Purify plasmid DNA from crude cell lysates, e.g.
by chromatography and ethanol precipitation.

Liquid chromatography
Molecules dissolved in a solution will interact
(bind and dissociate) with a solid surface.
When the solution is allowed to flow across the
surface, molecules that interact weakly with the
solid surface will spend less time bound to the
surface and will move more rapidly.
Commonly used to separate mixtures of nucleic
acids and proteins.

Three main techniques

Gel filtration chromatography: separation by
differences in mass.
Ion-exchange chromatography: separation by
differences in charge.
Affinity chromatography: separation by
differences in binding affinity.

Bacteriophage lambda () as a vector

Phage vectors are particularly useful for
preparing genomic libraries.
The recombinant viral particle infects bacterial
host cells in a process called transduction.
Progeny viral particles appears as a clear spot of
lysed bacteria or plaque on a lawn of bacteria.

Artificial chromosome vectors

Bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs) and
yeast artificial chromosomes (YACs) are
important tools for mapping and analysis of
complex eukaryotic genomes.
1997: first prototype mammalian artificial
chromosome (MAC)

Yeast artificial chromosome

(YAC) vectors
YAC vectors are designed to act like
chromosomes in host yeast cells
Origin of replication (Autonomously replicating
sequence, ARS)

YAC vectors contain selectable markers

URA3: encodes an enzyme required for uracil
TRP1: encodes an enzyme required for tryptophan
SUP4: tRNA that suppresses the Ade2-1 UAA mutation.

Red-white selection
Host yeast strain: ura3/trp1/Ade2-1 mutant
When foreign DNA is inserted in the multiple
cloning site, SUP4 expression is interrupted.
The Ade2-1 mutation is no longer suppressed.
ADE1 and ADE2 encode enzymes involved in
adenine biosynthesis.

Ade2-1 mutant cells produce a red pigment from

polymerization of an intermediate compound.
In the absence of foreign DNA, SUP4 is
The Ade2-1 mutation is suppressed.
Ade2-1 mutant cells expressing SUP4 are white
(the color of wild-type yeast cells).

Sources of DNA for cloning

Genomic DNA
Chemically synthesized oligonucleotides
Previously isolated clones: subcloning
Complementary DNA (cDNA)
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)

Complementary DNA (cDNA) synthesis

Most eukaryotic mRNAs have a poly(A) tail.
The poly(A) region can be used to selectively
isolate mRNA from total RNA by affinity
The purified mRNA can then be used as a
template for synthesis of cDNA by reverse

Are 53 sequences that appear in the

literature the first strand or second
strand of the double-stranded cDNA?

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)

Basic requirements for in vitro DNA synthesis:
DNA polymerase
DNA template
Free 3-OH to get the polymerase started

Three steps of the reaction performed in an

automated thermal cycler
Denaturation of the template DNA (e.g. 95C).
Annealing of primers (e.g. 55-65C).
Primer extension by a thermostable DNA
polymerase (e.g. 72C).

Taq DNA polymerase from Thermus aquaticus is

the most popular enzyme.
Pfu DNA polymerase from Pyrococcus furiosus
has higher fidelity.
Are the primers made of RNA or DNA?

Constructing DNA libraries

Genomic library: A cloned set of DNA fragments
that represent the entire genome of an
cDNA library: A cloned set of the coding region
of expressed genes only; derived from mRNA
isolated from a specific tissue, cell type, or
developmental state.

Genomic library
Break DNA into manageable sized pieces (e.g.
15-20 kb for phage vectors) by partial
restriction endonuclease digest.
Purify fragments of optimal size by gel
electrophoresis or centrifugation techniques.
Insert fragments into a suitable vector.
For the human genome, approximately 106 clones are
required to ensure that every sequence is

cDNA library
Does a cDNA library included intron
sequences or gene regulatory regions?

8.5 Library screening and


Nowadays, a DNA sequence of interest is more

likely to be isolated by PCR than by a library
In PCR, the pair of primers limits the
amplification process to the particular DNA
sequence of interest.
In contrast, a DNA library can be perpetuated
indefinitely in host cells and retrieved whenever
the researcher wants to seek out a particular

A key element required to identify a gene

during library screening is the probe:
A probe is a nucleic acid (usually DNA) that has
the same or a similar sequence to that of a
specific gene or DNA sequence of interest.
The denatured probe and target DNA can
hybridize when they are renatured together.

Library screening involves basic principles

of nucleic acid hybridization
Double-stranded nucleic acids can undergo
Complementary single strands spontaneously
anneal to a nucleic acid probe to form a hybrid
The nucleic acid probe can detect a
complementary molecule in a complex mixture
with exquisite sensitivity and specificity.

Types of DNA and RNA probes

Oligonucleotide probes: chemically synthesized
DNA probes: cloned DNAs
RNA probes (riboprobes): made by in vitro
transcription from cloned DNA templates

Heterologous probes
A probe that is similar to, but not exactly
the same as, the nucleic acid sequence of

Homologous probes
A probe that is exactly complementary to
the nucleic acid sequence of interest.
Examples include:
Degenerate probes
Expressed sequence tag (EST) based probes
cDNA probes

Use of degenerate probes: historical

Before the advent of genome sequence
databases, the classic method for designing a
probe relied on having a partial amino acid
sequence of a purified protein.
Traditionally protein sequencing was performed
by Edman degradation.
Today protein sequencing is more often
performed using mass spectrometry technology.

Unique EST-based probes

ESTs are partial cDNA sequences of about 200-400 bp.
A computer program applies the genetic code to
translate an EST into a partial amino acid sequence.
If a match is found with the protein under study, the EST
provides the unique DNA sequence of that portion of
A probe can then be synthesized and used to screen a
library for the entire cDNA or genomic clone.

Using an identified cDNA to locate a

genomic clone
Use of a cDNA to locate a genomic clone
provides a highly specific probe for the
gene of interest.

Labeling of probes
A probe must be labeled, i.e. chemically
modified in some way which allows it, and
anything it hybridizes to, to be detected.

Radioactive and nonradioactive

labeling methods
Detection techniques
Geiger counter
Liquid scintillation counter

Nonradioactive labeling
Colorimetric or chemiluminescent signals
Digoxygenin-conjugated nucleotides are detected with
an anti-digoxygenin antibody conjugated to an enzyme
or fluorescent dye.
Biotin-conjugated nucleotides are detected using
enzyme-conjugated streptavidin.

Nucleic acid labeling

Method depends on application:
Internal (uniform) labeling or end labeling?
Radioactive or nonradioactive?

Labeling involves DNA or RNA synthesis

reactions or other enzyme-mediated

Some methods for labeling nucleic acids:

Random primed labeling
In vitro transcription
Klenow fill-in

Library screening
Five major steps for screening a cDNA library
cloned into plasmid vectors:
1. Bacterial colonies are transferred to a
nitrocellulose or nylon membrane.
2. Bacterial cells are lysed and DNA is denatured.
3. Labeled probe is added to the membrane.
4. Washed membrane is exposed to X-ray film.
5. Positive colonies are identified.

Transfer of colonies to a
DNA-binding membrane
Bacterial colonies (members of the library)
grown on an agar plate are transferred to
nitrocellulose or nylon membrane to make a
After lysis and denaturation, the DNA is
covalently bound by its sugar-phosphate
backbone and the unpaired bases are exposed
for complementary base pairing.

Colony hybridization
The hybridization step is performed at a
nonstringent temperature that ensures the probe
will bind to any clone containing a similar
Higher stringency washes are performed to
remove nonspecifically bound probe.
Heteroduplex stability is influenced by the number
of hydrogen bonds between the bases and base
stacking hydrophobic interactions.

The shorter the duplex, the lower the GC

content, and the more mismatches there are, the
lower the melting temperature (Tm).
Hybridization temperature is calculated as
Tm = 49.82 + 0.41 (%G + C) (600/l)
where l is the length of the hybrid in base

Detection of positive colonies

The resulting autoradiogram has a dark spot on
the developed film where DNA-DNA hybrids
have formed.
If the gene is large, it may be fragmented over
multiple clones.
The original plate is used to pick bacterial cells
with recombinant plasmids that hybridized to the

Screening of expression libraries

Expression libraries are made with a
cloning vector that contains the required
regulatory elements for gene expression.
Useful for identifying a clone containing a
cDNA of interest when an antibody to the
encoded protein is available.

8.6 Restriction mapping and

RFLP analysis

Restriction mapping
Restriction mapping provides a compilation
of the:
Number of restriction endonuclease cutting sites
along a cloned DNA fragment.
Order of restriction endonuclease cutting sites.
Distance between restriction endonuclease
cutting sites.

Important roles for restriction mapping, for

Characterizing DNA.
Mapping genes.
Diagnostic tests for genetic disease.
Checking the orientation of the insert in a
recombinant DNA clone.

DNA and RNA electrophoresis

When charged molecules are placed in an
electric field, they migrate toward the
positive or negative electrode according to
their charge.
Nucleic acids are separated by
electrophoresis within a matrix or gel.

Types of gel electrophoresis

Agarose gel electrophoresis
Pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE)
Polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE)

Restriction fragment length

polymorphism (RFLP)
The existence of alternative alleles associated
with restriction fragments that differ in size from
each other.
Variable regions do not necessarily occur in
Function of most RFLPs in the human genome
is unknown.
Exception: sickle cell anemia RLFP

Diagnosis of sickle cell anemia by restriction

fragment length polymorphism (RFLP)
and Southern blot
A point mutation in the -globin gene has
destroyed the recognition site of the restriction
endonuclease MstII.
Affected individuals: larger restriction fragment
on a Southern blot
Normal individuals: shorter restriction fragment

RFLPs can serve as markers of

genetic disease
A RFLP that is close to a disease gene tends to stay
with that gene during crossing-over (recombination)
during meiosis.
Linkage: the likelihood of having one marker
transmitted with another through meiosis.
When a PCR assay for typing a particular locus is
developed, it is generally preferable to RFLP analysis.

Southern blot

Method developed by Edward Southern.

Identify a specific gene fragment from the
often many bands on a gel.

PCR-RFLP assay for

maple syrup urine disease
Autosomal recessive disease: 1/176 in certain
Old Order Mennonite communities.
Missense mutation in one of the genes encoding
an enzyme involved in metabolism of branchedchain amino acids.
Tyrosine (Y) to asparagine (N) substitution:
Y393N allele.

Symptoms appear 4 to 7 days after birth.

Accumulation of -keto acid derivatives gives
urine a maple syrup-like odor.
Neurological deterioriation and death within 2 to
3 weeks if diet is not controlled.

PCR-RFLP assay to identify Y393N allele

Buccal swab or blood sample.

Cut PCR products with ScaI.
Agarose gel electrophoresis.
Stain with ethidium bromide.

8.7 DNA sequencing

DNA sequencing is the ultimate

characterization of a cloned gene.
Manual sequencing by the Sanger dideoxy
DNA method.
Automated DNA sequencing.
Next-generation sequencing.

Manual sequencing by the Sanger

dideoxy DNA method
Another DNA synthesis reaction
DNA polymerase (T7 DNA polymerase called
DNA template
Free 3-OH to get the polymerase started

If the sequence is unknown how is the

primer designed?
Why is a ddNTP a replication terminator?

Automated DNA sequencing

Developed by Leroy Hood and Lloyd Smith in
Each ddNTP terminator is tagged with a different
color of fluorophore.
DNA samples loaded in a capillary array migrate
through a gel matrix by size, from smallest to

Automated DNA sequencing

When DNA fragments reach the detection
window, a laser beam excites the fluorophores
causing them to fluoresce.
An electropherograma graph of fluorescence
intensity versus timeis converted to the DNA
sequence by computer software.

Next-generation sequencing
The sequencing of spatially separated, clonally
amplified DNA templates in a massive array all
at the same time.
DNA sequences in the range of hundreds of
megabases to gigabases can be rapidly

454 pyrosequencing
Individual nucleotides are detected by light
production as nascent DNA is synthesized
one nucleotide at a time.

Template DNA is prepared by emulsion PCR.

The template DNA is immobilized on a bead in a
well in the sequencing machine.
Solutions of A,C,G, and T nucleotides are
sequentially added and removed from the
The enzyme luciferase is used to generate light.
Light is only produced when the nucleotide
solution complements the first unpaired base of
the template.