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Chapter: Genetics and Molecular Biology: Genetic Engineering and Recombinant DNA

Enzymatic DNA Sequencing

Sanger and his colleagues developed an enzymatic method for generat-ing the set of DNA fragments necessary for sequence determination.

Enzymatic DNA Sequencing

Sanger and his colleagues developed an enzymatic method for generating the set of DNA fragments necessary for sequence determination. Utilization of biological tricks now makes this method particularly efficient. When coupled with techniques to be discussed in the next, thousands of nucleotides per day per person can be sequenced. The Sanger method relies on the fact that elongation of a DNA strand by DNA polymerase cannot proceed beyond an incorporated 2’,3’-dide-oxyribonucleotide. The absence of the 3’-OH on such an incorporated nucleotide prevents chain extension. 

A growing chain therefore terminates with the incorporation of a dideoxyribonucleotide. Thus, elonga-tion reactions are performed in the presence of the four deoxyribonu-cleotide triphosphates plus sufficient dideoxyribonucleotide triphosphate that about one of these nucleotides will be incorporated per hundred normal nucleotides. The DNA synthesis must be performed so that each strand initiates from the same nucleotide and from the same strand. This is accomplished first by using only a single-stranded tem-plate and second by hybridizing an oligonucleotide to the DNA to provide the priming 3’-OH necessary for DNA elongation by DNA polymerases.

Figure 9.20 The Sanger sequencing method. Primer extension by DNA pol Iin the presence of dideoxyadenosine triphosphate, A’TP, creates a nested set of oligomers ending in A’.

In sequencing, four different elongation reactions are performed, each containing one of the four dideoxyribonucleotides. Radioactive label is introduced to the fragments by the use of either labeled nucleo-tides or labeled primer. The fragments generated in the elongation reactions are analyzed after electrophoresis in the same manner as the fragments generated by chemical cleavage (Fig. 9.20).


Viruses like M13 and f1 that encapsidate only one strand are one source of pure single-stranded DNA. Purification of this material from as little as 2 milliliters of growth medium yields sufficient DNA for sequencing. M13 has no rigid structural limitations on the length of viral DNA that can be encapsidated because its DNA is packaged as a rod during its extrusion through the cell membrane. Therefore large and small fragments may be inserted into nonessential regions of the virus genome. Although the viral form of the virus is single-stranded, the genetic engineering of cutting and ligating is done with the double-stranded intracellular replicative form of the virus DNA. This DNA can then be transformed into cells just as plasmid DNA is.

Instead of cloning the DNA to be sequenced into the virus, it is simpler to clone the virus replication origin into a plasmid vector that contains a nonviral origin as well. Then, cloning and normal genetic engineering operations can be performed on the plasmid DNA, and when sequencing is to be done, the cells can be infected with virus. Under the influence of the virus encoded proteins, the viral replication origin on the plasmid directs the synthesis of plus strand DNA. This is then isolated and used in sequencing or purified and used in other operations.


The single-stranded DNA template necessary for Sanger sequencing may also be obtained by denaturing double-stranded DNA and prevent-ing its rehybridization. Because partial rehybridization, often not in register, can still occur in many positions, this method works best with the use of a DNA polymerase capable of replicating through such

obstacles. A DNA polymerase encoded by phage T7 is helpful in this regard. Either a chemical modification of the wild-type enzyme or a special mutant enzyme makes the T7 DNA polymerase highly processive and capable of replicating through regions containing significant amounts of secondary structure. The DNA pol I from E. coli or the Klenow fragment of this enzyme are adequate for sequencing from pure single-stranded DNA.

Needless to say, the vast explosion in the amount of sequenced DNA has stimulated development of highly efficient methods for analysis. Computer programs have been written for comparing homology be-tween DNA sequences, searching for symmetrical or repeated se-quences, cataloging restriction sites, writing down the amino acid sequences resulting when the DNA is transcribed and translated into protein, and performing other time-consuming operations on the se-quence. The amount of information known about DNA and the ease in manipulating it has greatly extended our understanding of many bio-logical processes and is now becoming highly important in industrial and medical areas as well.

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