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J Biol Chem. 1996 Jun 21;271(25):14856-63.

Widespread use of the glu-tRNAGln transamidation pathway among bacteria. A member of the alpha purple bacteria lacks glutaminyl-trna synthetase.

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  • 1Département de Biochimie, Faculté des Sciences et de Génie, Université Laval, Ste-Foy, Québec G1K 7P4, Canada.


The expression of the Rhizobium meliloti glutamyl-tRNA synthetase gene in Escherichia coli under the control of a trc promoter results in a toxic effect upon isopropyl-beta-D-thiogalactopyranoside induction, which is probably caused by a misacylation activity. To further investigate this unexpected result, we looked at the pathway of Gln-tRNAGln formation in R. meliloti. No glutaminyl-tRNA synthetase activity has been found in R. meliloti crude extract, but we detected a specific aminotransferase activity that changes Glu-tRNAGln to Gln-tRNAGln. Our results show that R. meliloti, a member of the alpha-subdivision of the purple bacteria, is the first Gram-negative bacteria reported to use a transamidation pathway for Gln-tRNAGln synthesis. A phylogenetic analysis of the contemporary glutamyl-tRNA synthetase and glutaminyl-tRNA synthetase amino acid sequences reveals that a close evolutionary relationship exists between R. meliloti and yeast mitochondrial glutamyl-tRNA synthetases, which is consistent with an origin of mitochondria in the alpha-subdivision of Gram-negative purple bacteria. A 256-amino acid open reading frame closely related to bacterial glutamyl-tRNA synthetases, which probably originates from a glutamyl-tRNA synthetase gene duplication, was found in the 4-min region of the E. coli chromosome. We suggest that this open reading frame is a relic of an ancient transamidation pathway that occurred in an E. coli ancestor before the horizontal transfer of a eukaryotic glutaminyl-tRNA synthetase (Lamour, V., Quevillon, S., Diriong, S., N'Guyen, V. C., Lipinski, M., and Mirande, M.(1994) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 91, 8670-8674) and that it favored its stable acquisition. From these observations, a revisited model for the evolution of the contemporary glutamyl-tRNA synthetases and glutaminyl-tRNA synthetases that differs from the generally accepted model for the evolution of aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases is proposed.

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