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Prokaryotic genes are colinear with their proteins


KEY TERMS:
  • A colinear relationship describes the 1:1 representation of a sequence of triplet nucleotides in a sequence of amino acids.
KEY CONCEPTS:
  • A prokaryotic gene consists of a continuous length of 3N nucleotides that codes for N amino acids.
  • The gene, mRNA, and protein are all colinear.  

By comparing the nucleotide sequence of a gene with the amino acid sequence of a protein, we can determine directly whether the gene and the protein are colinear: whether the sequence of nucleotides in the gene corresponds exactly with the sequence of amino acids in the protein. In bacteria and their viruses, there is an exact equivalence. Each gene contains a continuous stretch of DNA whose length is directly related to the number of amino acids in the protein that it represents. A gene of 3N bp is required to code for a protein of N amino acids, according to the genetic code.
The equivalence of the bacterial gene and its product means that a physical map of DNA will exactly match an amino acid map of the protein. How well do these maps fit with the recombination map?

The colinearity of gene and protein was originally investigated in the tryptophan synthetase gene of E. coli (see Great Experiments:  Gene-protein colinearity). Genetic distance was measured by the percent recombination between mutations; protein distance was measured by the number of amino acids separating sites of replacement. Figure 1.35 compares the two maps. The order of seven sites of mutation is the same as the order of the corresponding sites of amino acid replacement. And the recombination distances are relatively similar to the actual distances in the protein. The recombination map expands the distances between some mutations, but otherwise there is little distortion of the recombination map relative to the physical map (Yanofsky et al., 1964; Yanofsky et al., 1967).
The recombination map makes two further general points about the organization of the gene. Different mutations may cause a wild-type amino acid to be replaced with different substituents. If two such mutations cannot recombine, they must involve different point mutations at the same position in DNA. If the mutations can be separated on the genetic map, but affect the same amino acid on the upper map (the connecting lines converge in the figure), they must involve point mutations at different positions that affect the same amino acid. This happens because the unit of genetic recombination (actually 1 bp) is smaller than the unit coding for the amino acid (actually 3 bp).

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