Science 344(6186) , 909-13 (May 23 2014)
The canonical genetic code is assumed to be deeply conserved across all domains of life with very few exceptions. By scanning 5.6 trillion base pairs of metagenomic data for stop codon reassignment events, we detected recoding in a substantial fraction of the >1700 environmental samples examined. We observed extensive opal and amber stop codon reassignments in bacteriophages and of opal in bacteria. Our data indicate that bacteriophages can infect hosts with a different genetic code and demonstrate phage-host antagonism based on code differences. The abundance and diversity of genetic codes present in environmental organisms should be considered in the design of engineered organisms with altered genetic codes in order to preclude the exchange of genetic information with naturally occurring species.