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Nucleic Acids Res. 2011 Aug;39(14):6016-28. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkr169. Epub 2011 Apr 5.

Specialization versus adaptation: two strategies employed by cyanophages to enhance their translation efficiencies.

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Department of Plant Sciences, Weizmann Institute of Science, PO Box 26, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


Effective translation of the viral genome during the infection cycle most likely enhances its fitness. In this study, we reveal two different strategies employed by cyanophages, viruses infecting cyanobacteria, to enhance their translation efficiency. Cyanophages of the T7-like Podoviridae family adjust their GC content and codon usage to those of their hosts. In contrast, cyanophages of the T4-like Myoviridae family maintain genomes with low GC content, thus sometimes differing from that of their hosts. By introducing their own specific set of tRNAs, they appear to modulate the tRNA pools of hosts with tRNAs that fit the viral low GC preferred codons. We assessed the possible effects of those viral tRNAs on cyanophages and cyanobacterial genomes using the tRNA adaptation index, which measures the extent to which a given pool of tRNAs translates efficiently particular genes. We found a strong selective pressure to gain and maintain tRNAs that will boost translation of myoviral genes when infecting a high GC host, contrasted by a negligible effect on the host genes. Thus, myoviral tRNAs may represent an adaptive strategy to enhance fitness when infecting high GC hosts, thereby potentially broadening the spectrum of hosts while alleviating the need to adjust global parameters such as GC content for each specific host.

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