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PLoS Genet. 2013;9(1):e1003238. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003238. Epub 2013 Jan 31.

An Incompatibility between a mitochondrial tRNA and its nuclear-encoded tRNA synthetase compromises development and fitness in Drosophila.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, United States of America.


Mitochondrial transcription, translation, and respiration require interactions between genes encoded in two distinct genomes, generating the potential for mutations in nuclear and mitochondrial genomes to interact epistatically and cause incompatibilities that decrease fitness. Mitochondrial-nuclear epistasis for fitness has been documented within and between populations and species of diverse taxa, but rarely has the genetic or mechanistic basis of these mitochondrial-nuclear interactions been elucidated, limiting our understanding of which genes harbor variants causing mitochondrial-nuclear disruption and of the pathways and processes that are impacted by mitochondrial-nuclear coevolution. Here we identify an amino acid polymorphism in the Drosophila melanogaster nuclear-encoded mitochondrial tyrosyl-tRNA synthetase that interacts epistatically with a polymorphism in the D. simulans mitochondrial-encoded tRNA(Tyr) to significantly delay development, compromise bristle formation, and decrease fecundity. The incompatible genotype specifically decreases the activities of oxidative phosphorylation complexes I, III, and IV that contain mitochondrial-encoded subunits. Combined with the identity of the interacting alleles, this pattern indicates that mitochondrial protein translation is affected by this interaction. Our findings suggest that interactions between mitochondrial tRNAs and their nuclear-encoded tRNA synthetases may be targets of compensatory molecular evolution. Human mitochondrial diseases are often genetically complex and variable in penetrance, and the mitochondrial-nuclear interaction we document provides a plausible mechanism to explain this complexity.

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Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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