Parallel evolution of the genetic code in arthropod mitochondrial genomes

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Abstract

The genetic code provides the translation table necessary to transform the information contained in DNA into the language of proteins. In this table, a correspondence between each codon and each amino acid is established: tRNA is the main adaptor that links the two. Although the genetic code is nearly universal, several variants of this code have been described in a wide range of nuclear and organellar systems, especially in metazoan mitochondria. These variants are generally found by searching for conserved positions that consistently code for a specific alternative amino acid in a new species. We have devised an accurate computational method to automate these comparisons, and have tested it with 626 metazoan mitochondrial genomes. Our results indicate that several arthropods have a new genetic code and translate the codon AGG as lysine instead of serine (as in the invertebrate mitochondrial genetic code) or arginine (as in the standard genetic code). We have investigated the evolution of the genetic code in the arthropods and found several events of parallel evolution in which the AGG codon was reassigned between serine and lysine. Our analyses also revealed correlated evolution between the arthropod genetic codes and the tRNA-Lys/-Ser, which show specific point mutations at the anticodons. These rather simple mutations, together with a low usage of the AGG codon, might explain the recurrence of the AGG reassignments.

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Abascal, F., Posada, D., Knight, R. D., & Zardoya, R. (2006). Parallel evolution of the genetic code in arthropod mitochondrial genomes. PLoS Biology, 4(5), 711–718. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0040127

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