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J Microbiol. 2008 Feb;46(1):1-11. doi: 10.1007/s12275-007-0233-1.

The use of the rare UUA codon to define "expression space" for genes involved in secondary metabolism, development and environmental adaptation in streptomyces.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Microbiology, John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7UH, UK.


In Streptomyces coelicolor, bldA encodes the only tRNA for a rare leucine codon, UUA. This tRNA is unnecessary for growth, but is required for some aspects of secondary metabolism and morphological development, as revealed by the phenotypes of bldA mutants in diverse streptomycetes. This article is a comprehensive review of out understanding of this unusual situation. Based on information from four sequenced genomes it now appears that, typically, about 2 approximately 3% of genes in any one streptomycete contain a TTA codon, most having been acquired through species-specific horizontal gene transfer. Among the few widely conserved TTA-containing genes, mutations in just one, the pleiotropic regulatory gene adpA, give an obvious phenotype: such mutants are defective in aerial growth and sporulation, but vary in the extent of their impairment in secondary metabolism in different streptomycetes. The TTA codon in adpA is largely responsible for the morphological phenotype of a bldA mutant of S. coelicolor. AdpA-dependent targets include several genes involved in the integrated action of extracellular proteases that, at least in some species, are involved in the conversion of primary biomass into spores. The effects of bldA mutations on secondary metabolism are mostly attributable to the presence of TTA codons in pathway-specific genes, particularly in transcriptional activator genes. This is not confined to S. coelicolor-it is true for about half of all known antibiotic biosynthetic gene sets from streptomycetes. Combined microarray and proteomic analysis of liquid (and therefore non-sporulating) S. coelicolor bldA mutant cultures revealed effects of the mutation during rapid growth, during transition phase, and in stationary phase. Some of these effects may be secondary consequences of changes in the pattern of ppGpp accumulation. It is argued that the preferential accumulation of the bldA tRNA under conditions in which growth is significantly constrained has evolved to favour the expression of genes that confer adaptive benefits in intermittently encountered sub-optimal environments. The evolution of this system may have been a secondary consequence of the selective pressure exerted by bacteriophage attack. Some biotechnological implications of bldA phenomenology are considered.

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