A comparative study of variation in codon 33 of the rpoS gene in Escherichia coli K12 stocks: Implications for the synthesis of σ s

P. R. Subbarayan, M. Sarkar

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The Escherichia coli rpoS gene encodes an RNA polymerase sigma factor (sigma S or σS) required for the expression of stationary-phase genes. In the first published rpoS sequence from E. coli K-12 codon 33 is given as CAG. However, several subsequent independent studies found the amber codon TAG at this position (rpoSAm). Besides this amber codon, other codons such as TAT have also been found at this location in rpoS. Comparative genome analysis now leads us to propose TAG as the parental codon 33 in rpoS in E. coli K-12. Five different stocks of the strain W3110, which differ in the levels of σS protein they express, were investigated. We sequenced the rpoS gene from these, and found a T at nucleotide position 97 in four out of the five stocks and a G at position 99 in three out of the five. W1485, a parental strain of W3110, and W3350, a derivative of W3110, are also rpoSAm mutants. Such rpoSAm mutants would be expected to show no RpoS activity. The retention of partial or intermediate σS activity by suppressor-free rpoSAm mutants is therefore puzzling. We propose that a functional, N-terminally truncated, σS (Δ1-53σ S) can be translated from a Secondary Translation Initiation Region (STIR) located downstream of the amber codon 33. It has recently been reported that a fragment of RpoS (Δ1-53σS) that lacks the first 53 amino acids is functional when synthesized in vivo. Taken together, our results support the hypothesis that the original codon 33 of the rpoS gene in E. coli K-12 strains is the amber codon TAG.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)533-538
Number of pages6
JournalMolecular Genetics and Genomics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004



  • Amber mutation
  • Internal Translation Initiation
  • Secondary Translation Initiation Region (STIR)
  • Sigma S evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics

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