Embedded in the sequence of each transfer RNA are elements that promote specific interactions with its cognate aminoacyl tRNAsynthetase. Although many such identity elements are known, their detection is difficult since they rely on unique structural signatures and the combinatorial action of multiple elements spread throughout the tRNA molecule. Since the anticodon is often a major identity determinant itself, it is possible to switch between certain tRNA functional types by means of anticodon substitutions. This has been shown to have occurred during the evolution of some genomes; however, the scale and relevance of anticodon shifts to the evolution of the tRNA multigene family is unclear. Using a synteny-conservation-based method, we detected tRNA anticodon shifts in groups of closely related species: five primates, 12 Drosophila, six nematodes, 11 Saccharomycetes, and 61 Enterobacteriaceae. We found a total of 75 anticodon shifts: 31 involving switches of identity (alloacceptor shifts) and 44 between isoacceptors that code for the same amino acid (isoacceptor shifts). The relative numbers of shifts in each taxa suggest that tRNA gene redundancy is likely the driving factor, with greater constraint on changes of identity. Sites that frequently covary with alloacceptor shifts are located at the extreme ends of the molecule, in common with most known identity determinants. Isoacceptor shifts are associated with changes in the midsections of the tRNA sequence. However, the mutation patterns of anticodon shifts involving the same identities are often dissimilar, suggesting that alternate sets of mutation may achieve the same functional compensation. © 2014 Calidas et al.
- Genetic code
- Transfer RNA anticodon