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Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek. 2008 Jun;94(1):111-26. doi: 10.1007/s10482-008-9231-5. Epub 2008 Mar 5.

Evolutionary flux of potentially bldA-dependent Streptomyces genes containing the rare leucine codon TTA.

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John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Colney, Norwich NR4 7UH, UK.


Previous studies have shown that one of the six leucine codons, UUA, is rare in Streptomyces, and that, while the gene for the UUA-specific tRNA, bldA, can generally be inactivated in diverse streptomycetes without impairing vegetative growth, bldA mutants are typically defective in reproductive aerial growth and in antibiotic production. Here, four complete genome sequences and 143 gene clusters for antibiotic biosynthesis from diverse streptomycetes were analysed in order to evaluate the evolution and function of genes whose possession of TTA codons makes them dependent on bldA. It was deduced that the last common ancestor of the four sequenced genomes, possibly 220 million years ago, already possessed the bldA system, together with perhaps 200 TTA-containing target genes. Some 33 of these genes are retained by the modern descendants, though only three of them retain a TTA in all occurrences. Nearly all of these 33, as well as many of the TTA-containing genes with orthologues in two or three of the four genomes, have the same location on the chromosomes as in their common ancestor. However, the majority of TTA-containing genes (61% overall in the four genomes) are species-specific, and were probably acquired by comparatively recent horizontal gene transfer. Most of these genes are of unknown function, and it is likely that many of them confer specialised ecological benefits. On the other hand, one class of species-specific, functionally recognisable, horizontally acquired genes--the gene clusters for antibiotic production--very often contain TTA codons; and nearly half of them have TTA codons in their pathway-specific regulatory genes.

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