Comparative genomic analyses have provided evidence that new genetic functions can emerge out of random nucleotide sequences. Here, we apply a direct experimental approach to study the effects of plasmids harbouring random sequence inserts under the control of an inducible promoter. Based on data from previously described experiments dealing with the growth of clones within whole libraries, we extracted specific clones that had shown either negative or positive effects on relative cell growth. We analysed these individually with respect to growth characteristics and impact on the transcriptome. We find that candidate clones for negative peptides lead to growth arrest by eliciting a general stress response. Overexpression of positive clones, on the other hand, does not change the exponential growth rates of hosts, but they show a growth advantage over a neutral candidate clone when tested in direct competition experiments. Transcriptomic changes in positive clones are relatively moderate and specific to each clone. We conclude from our experiments that random sequence peptides are in-deed a suitable source for the de novo evolution of genetic functions.
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