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Aminoacyl-tRNAs (aa-tRNAs) are simple molecules with a single purpose—to serve as substrates for translation. They consist of mature tRNAs to which an amino acid has been esterified at the 3′-end. The 20 different types of aa-tRNA are made by the 20 different aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRSs, of which there are two classes), one for each amino acid of the genetic code (Ibba and Söll 2000). This would be fine if it were not for the fact that such a straightforward textbook scenario is not true in a single known living organism. aa-tRNAs lie at the heart of gene expression; they interpret the genetic code by providing the interface between nucleic acid triplets in mRNA and the corresponding amino acids in proteins. The synthesis of aa-tRNAs impacts the accuracy of translation, the expansion of the genetic code, and even provides tangible links to primary metabolism. These central roles vest immense power in aa-tRNAs, and recent studies show just how complex and diverse their synthesis is.


This article was originally published in Genes & Development, volume 18, in 2004.


Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press



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