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C R Biol. 2011 Aug-Sep;334(8-9):607-11. doi: 10.1016/j.crvi.2011.05.008. Epub 2011 Jul 2.

The genetic code of the fungal CTG clade.

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RNA Biology Laboratory, Department of Biology and CESAM, University of Aveiro, Campus de Santiago, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal.


Genetic code alterations discovered over the last 40 years in bacteria and eukaryotes invalidate the hypothesis that the code is universal and frozen. Mitochondria of various yeast species translate the UGA stop codon as tryptophan (Trp) and leucine (Leu) CUN codons (N = any nucleotide) as threonine (Thr) and fungal CTG clade species reassigned Leu CUG codons to serine and translate them ambiguously in their cytoplasms. This unique sense-to-sense genetic code alteration is mediated by a Ser-tRNA containing a Leu 5'-CAG-3'anticodon (ser-tRNA(CAG)), which is recognized and charged with Ser (~97%) by the seryl-tRNA synthetase (SerRS) and with Leu (~3%) by the leucyl-tRNA synthetase (LeuRS). This unusual tRNA appeared 272 ± 25 million years ago and had a profound impact on the evolution of the CTG clade species. Here, we review the most recent results and concepts arising from the study of this codon reassignment and we highlight how its study is changing our views of the evolution of the genetic code.

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