Biochemistry, Department of


Date of this Version

August 2001


Published in THE JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL CHEMISTRY, Vol. 276, No. 32, Issue of August 10, pp. 29798–29804, 2001.


Selenocysteine is a rare amino acid in protein that is encoded by UGA with the requirement of a downstream mRNA stem-loop structure, the selenocysteine insertion sequence element. To detect selenoproteins in Drosophila, the entire genome was analyzed with a novel program that searches for selenocysteine insertion sequence elements, followed by selenoprotein gene signature analyses. This computational screen and subsequent metabolic labeling with 75Se and characterization of selenoprotein mRNA expression resulted in identification of three selenoproteins: selenophosphate synthetase 2 and novel G-rich and BthD selenoproteins that had no homology to known proteins. To assess a biological role for these proteins, a simple chemically defined medium that supports growth of adult Drosophila and requires selenium supplementation for optimal survival was devised. Flies survived on this medium supplemented with 10-8 to 10-6 M selenium or on the commonly used yeast-based complete medium at about twice the rate as those on a medium without selenium or with >10-6 M selenium. This effect correlated with changes in selenoprotein mRNA expression. The number of eggs laid by Drosophila was reduced approximately in half in the chemically defined medium compared with the same medium supplemented with selenium. The data provide evidence that dietary selenium deficiency shortens, while supplementation of the diet with selenium normalizes the Drosophila life span by a process that may involve the newly identified selenoproteins.