Duplication of leucyl-tRNA synthetase in an archaeal extremophile may play a role in adaptation to variable environmental conditions

Christopher S. Weitzel, Li Li, Changyi Zhang, Kristen K. Eilts, Nicholas M. Bretz, Alex L. Gatten, Rachel J. Whitaker, Susan A. Martinis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRSs) are ancient enzymes that play a fundamental role in protein synthesis. They catalyze the esterification of specific amino acids to the 3'-end of their cognate tRNAs and therefore play a pivotal role in protein synthesis. Although previous studies suggest that aaRS-dependent errors in protein synthesis can be beneficial to some microbial species, evidence that reduced aaRS fidelity can be adaptive is limited. Using bioinformatics analyses, we identified two distinct leucyl-tRNA synthetase (LeuRS) genes within all genomes of the archaeal family Sulfolobaceae. Remarkably, one copy, designated LeuRS-I, had key amino acid substitutions within its editing domain that would be expected to disrupt hydrolytic editing of mischarged tRNALeu and to result in variation within the proteome of these extremophiles. We found that another copy, LeuRS-F, contains canonical active sites for aminoacylation and editing. Biochemical and genetic analyses of the paralogs within Sulfolobus islandicus supported the hypothesis that LeuRS-F, but not LeuRS-I, functions as an essential tRNA synthetase that accurately charges leucine to tRNALeu for protein translation. Although LeuRS-I was not essential, its expression clearly supported optimal S. islandicus growth. We conclude that LeuRS-I may have evolved to confer a selective advantage under the extreme and fluctuating environmental conditions characteristic of the volcanic hot springs in which these archaeal extremophiles reside.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4563-4576
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 3 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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