PBCV-1 belongs to a family of large viruses that replicate in the exsymbiont green algae Chlorella strain NC64A. The viral, 330-kb DNA genome encodes a relatively large number of functionally active proteins including restriction and modification enzymes, DNA polymerase, glycosylation, and cell wall degrading enzymes. Sequencing of the viral DNA, now in progress, revealed many major open reading frames (ORF), which resemble known genes in sequence data bases and which have not previously been found in viral genomes. Here we report on the identification and characterization of one such gene, aspartate transcarbamylase (ATCase), an enzyme that catalyzes the committing step in the de novo biosynthetic pathway of pyrimidines. The cloned gene is highly homologous to a variety of plant ATCases and includes the typical ATCase catalytic motif. When cloned into the pGEX-2T expression vector, a fusion protein with ATCase activity could be demonstrated and distinguished from the host ATCase activity. The viral enzyme is expressed early and transiently in the infection. To our knowledge, this is the first virus known to encode and express its own de novo nucleotide precursors' synthetic enzymes.
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