Post-transcriptional modifications in archaeal RNA are known to be phylogenetically distinct but relatively little is known of tRNA from the Methanococci, a lineage of methanogenic marine euryarchaea that grow over an unusually broad temperature range. Transfer RNAs from Methanococcus vannielii, Methanococcus maripaludis, the thermophile Methanococcus thermolithotrophicus, and hyperthermophiles Methanococcus jannaschii and Methanococcus igneus were studied to determine whether modification patterns reflect the close phylogenetic relationships inferred from small ribosomal subunit RNA sequences, and to examine modification differences associated with temperature of growth. Twenty-four modified nucleosides were characterized, including the complex tricyclic nucleoside wyosine characteristic of position 37 in tRNAPhe and known previously only in eukarya, plus two new wye family members of presently unknown structure. The hypermodified nucleoside 5-methylaminomethyl-2-thiouridine, reported previously only in bacterial tRNA at the first position of the anticodon, was identified by liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization mass spectrometry in four of the five organisms. The ribose-methylated nucleosides, 2′-O-methyladenosine, N2,2′-O-dimethylguanosine and N2,N2,2′-O-trimethylguanosine, were found only in hyperthermophile tRNA, consistent with their proposed roles in thermal stabilization of tRNA.
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