A variety of positive/negative selection systems have been exploited as genome engineering tools and screening platforms for genetic switches. While numerous positive-selection systems are available, only a handful of negative-selection systems are useful for such applications. We previously reported a powerful negative-selection system using herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HsvTK) and the mutagenic nucleoside analog 6-(β-D-2-deoxyribofuranosyl)-3,4-dihydro-8H-pyrimido [4,5-c][1,2] oxazin-7-one (dP). Upon addition of 1000 nM dP, cells expressing HsvTK quickly die, with unprecedented efficacy. However, this selection procedure elevates the spontaneous mutation rate of the host cells by 10-fold due to the mutagenic nature of dP. To decrease the operative concentration of dP required for negative selection, we systematically created the strains of Escherichia coli either by removing or overexpressing genes involved in DNA/RNA metabolism. We found that over-expression of NupC and NupG (nucleoside uptake-related inner membrane transporters), Tsx (outer membrane transporter), NdK (nucleotide kinase) sensitized E. coli cells to dP. Simultaneous overexpression of these three genes (ndk-nupC-tsx) significantly improved the dP-sensitivity of E. coli, lowering the necessary operative concentration of dP for negative selection by 10-fold. This enabled robust and selective elimination of strains harboring chromosomally-encoded hsvtk simply by adding as low as 100 nM dP, which causes only a modest increase in the spontaneous mutation frequency as compared to the cells without hsvtk.
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