Creating a Genomic Library


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The generation of a genomic library facilitates the discovery of the genomic DNA fragment that contains a gene of interest. (credit “micrograph”: modification of work by National Institutes of Health)

OpenStax Microbiology

Molecular cloning may also be used to generate a genomic library. The library is a complete (or nearly complete) copy of an organism’s genome contained as recombinant DNA plasmids engineered into unique clones of bacteria. Having such a library allows a researcher to create large quantities of each fragment by growing the bacterial host for that fragment. These fragments can be used to determine the sequence of the DNA and the function of any genes present.

One method for generating a genomic library is to ligate individual restriction enzyme-digested genomic fragments into plasmid vectors cut with the same restriction enzyme. After transformation into a bacterial host, each transformed bacterial cell takes up a single recombinant plasmid and grows into a colony of cells. All of the cells in this colony are identical clones and carry the same recombinant plasmid. The resulting library is a collection of colonies, each of which contains a fragment of the original organism’s genome, that are each separate and distinct and can each be used for further study. This makes it possible for researchers to screen these different clones to discover the one containing a gene of interest from the original organism’s genome.

To construct a genomic library using larger fragments of genomic DNA, an E. coli bacteriophage, such as lambda, can be used as a host. Genomic DNA can be sheared or enzymatically digested and ligated into a predigested bacteriophage lambda DNA vector. Then, these recombinant phage DNA molecules can be packaged into phage particles and used to infect E. coli host cells on a plate. During infection within each cell, each recombinant phage will make many copies of itself and lyse the E. coli lawn, forming a plaque. Thus, each plaque from a phage library represents a unique recombinant phage containing a distinct genomic DNA fragment. Plaques can then be screened further to look for genes of interest. One advantage to producing a library using phages instead of plasmids is that a phage particle holds a much larger insert of foreign DNA compared with a plasmid vector, thus requiring a much smaller number of cultures to fully represent the entire genome of the original organism.

Recombinant phage DNA molecules are made by ligating digested phage particles with fragmented
genomic DNA molecules. These recombinant phage DNA molecules are packaged into phage particles and allowed to infect a bacterial lawn. Each plaque represents a unique recombinant DNA molecule that can be further screened for genes of interest.

Source: OpenStax Microbiology

To focus on the expressed genes in an organism or even a tissue, researchers construct libraries using the organism’s messenger RNA (mRNA) rather than its genomic DNA. Whereas all cells in a single organism will have the same genomic DNA, different tissues express different genes, producing different complements of mRNA. For example, all human cells’ genomic DNA contains the gene for insulin, but only cells in the pancreas express mRNA directing the production of insulin. Because mRNA cannot be cloned directly, in the laboratory mRNA must be used as a template by the retroviral enzyme reverse transcriptase to make complementary DNA (cDNA). A cell’s full complement of mRNA can be reverse-transcribed into cDNA molecules, which can be used as a template for DNA polymerase to make double-stranded DNA copies; these fragments can subsequently be ligated into either plasmid vectors or bacteriophage to produce a cDNA library. The benefit of a cDNA library is that it contains DNA from only the expressed genes in the cell. This means that the introns, control sequences such as promoters, and DNA not destined to be translated into proteins are not represented in the library. The focus on translated sequences means that the library cannot be used to study the sequence and structure of the genome in its entirety.

Complementary DNA (cDNA) is made from mRNA by the retroviral enzyme reverse transcriptase, converted into double-stranded copies, and inserted into either plasmid vectors or bacteriophage, producing a cDNA library. (credit “micrograph”: modification of work by National Institutes of Health)


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: