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Random mutagenesis by error-prone pol plasmid replication in Escherichia coli.

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Directed evolution is an approach that mimics natural evolution in the laboratory with the goal of modifying existing enzymatic activities or of generating new ones. The identification of mutants with desired properties involves the generation of genetic diversity coupled with a functional selection or screen. Genetic diversity can be generated using PCR or using in vivo methods such as chemical mutagenesis or error-prone replication of the desired sequence in a mutator strain. In vivo mutagenesis methods facilitate iterative selection because they do not require cloning, but generally produce a low mutation density with mutations not restricted to specific genes or areas within a gene. For this reason, this approach is typically used to generate new biochemical properties when large numbers of mutants can be screened or selected. Here we describe protocols for an advanced in vivo mutagenesis method that is based on error-prone replication of a ColE1 plasmid bearing the gene of interest. Compared to other in vivo mutagenesis methods, this plasmid-targeted approach allows increased mutation loads and facilitates iterative selection approaches. We also describe the mutation spectrum for this mutagenesis methodology in detail, and, using cycle 3 GFP as a target for mutagenesis, we illustrate the phenotypic diversity that can be generated using our method. In sum, error-prone Pol I replication is a mutagenesis method that is ideally suited for the evolution of new biochemical activities when a functional selection is available.

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