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Essential genes, those indispensable for the survival of an organism, play a key role in the emerging field, synthetic biology. Characterization of functions encoded by essential genes not only has important practical implications, such as in identifying antibiotic drug targets, but can also enhance our understanding of basic biology, such as functions needed to support cellular life. Enzymes are critical for almost all cellular activities. However, essential genes have not been systematically examined from the aspect of enzymes and the chemical reactions that they catalyze. Here, by comprehensively analyzing essential genes in 14 bacterial genomes in which large-scale gene essentiality screens have been performed, we found that enzymes are enriched in essential genes. Essential enzymes have overrepresented ligases (especially those forming carbon-oxygen bonds and carbon-nitrogen bonds), nucleotidyltransferases and phosphotransferases, while have underrepresented oxidoreductases. Furthermore, essential enzymes tend to associate with more gene ontology domains. These results, from the aspect of chemical reactions, provide further insights into the understanding of functions needed to support natural cellular life, as well as synthetic cells, and provide additional parameters that can be integrated into gene essentiality prediction algorithms.


Feng Gao, Randy Ren Zhang. Enzymes are enriched in bacterial essential genes. PloS one. 2011;6(6):e21683

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PMID: 21738765

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