Building better enzymes: Molecular basis of improved non-natural nucleobase incorporation by an evolved DNA polymerase

Zahra Ouaray, Isha Singh, Millie M. Georgiadis, Nigel G.J. Richards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Obtaining semisynthetic microorganisms that exploit the information density of “hachimoji” DNA requires access to engineered DNA polymerases. A KlenTaq variant has been reported that incorporates the “hachimoji” P:Z nucleobase pair with a similar efficiency to that seen for Watson–Crick nucleobase incorporation by the wild type (WT) KlenTaq DNA polymerase. The variant polymerase differs from WT KlenTaq by only four amino acid substitutions, none of which are located within the active site. We now report molecular dynamics (MD) simulations on a series of binary complexes aimed at elucidating the contributions of the four amino acid substitutions to altered catalytic activity. These simulations suggest that WT KlenTaq is insufficiently flexible to be able to bind AEGIS DNA correctly, leading to the loss of key protein/DNA interactions needed to position the binary complex for efficient incorporation of the “hachimoji” Z nucleobase. In addition, we test literature hypotheses about the functional roles of each amino acid substitution and provide a molecular description of how individual residue changes contribute to the improved activity of the KlenTaq variant. We demonstrate that MD simulations have a clear role to play in systematically screening DNA polymerase variants capable of incorporating different types of nonnatural nucleobases thereby limiting the number that need to be characterized by experiment. It is now possible to build DNA molecules containing nonnatural nucleobase pairs in addition to A:T and G:C. Exploiting this development in synthetic biology requires engineered DNA polymerases that can replicate nonnatural nucleobase pairs. Computational studies on a DNA polymerase variant reveal how amino acid substitutions outside of the active site yield an enzyme that replicates nonnatural nucleobase pairs with high efficiency. This work will facilitate efforts to obtain bacteria possessing an expanded genetic alphabet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)455-468
Number of pages14
JournalProtein Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • DNA replication
  • enzyme engineering
  • expanded genetic alphabets
  • molecular dynamics
  • polymerase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology

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