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Faithful translation of mRNA into the corresponding polypeptide is a complex multistep process, requiring accurate amino acid selection, transfer RNA (tRNA) charging and mRNA decoding on the ribosome. Key players in this process are aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRSs), which not only catalyse the attachment of cognate amino acids to their respective tRNAs, but also selectively hydrolyse incorrectly activated non-cognate amino acids and/or misaminoacylated tRNAs. This aaRS proofreading provides quality control checkpoints that exclude non-cognate amino acids during translation, and in so doing helps to prevent the formation of an aberrant proteome. However, despite the intrinsic need for high accuracy during translation, and the widespread evolutionary conservation of aaRS proofreading pathways, requirements for translation quality control vary depending on cellular physiology and changes in growth conditions, and translation errors are not always detrimental. Recent work has demonstrated that mistranslation can also be beneficial to cells, and some organisms have selected for a higher degree of mistranslation than others. The aims of this Review Article are to summarize the known mechanisms of protein translational fidelity and explore the diversity and impact of mistranslation events as a potentially beneficial response to environmental and cellular stress.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Nature Microbiology, volume 2, in 2017 following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at

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