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As compared to eukaryotes, bacteria have a reduced tRNA gene set encoding between 30 and 220 tRNAs. Although in most bacterial phyla tRNA genes are dispersed in the genome, many species from distinct phyla also show genes forming arrays. Here, we show that two types of arrays with distinct evolutionary origins exist. This work focuses on long tRNA gene arrays (L-arrays) that encompass up to 43 genes, which disseminate by horizontal gene transfer and contribute supernumerary tRNA genes to the host. Although in the few cases previously studied these arrays were reported to be poorly transcribed, here we show that the L-array of the model cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120, encoding 23 functional tRNAs, is largely induced upon impairment of the translation machinery. The cellular response to this challenge involves a global reprogramming of the transcriptome in two phases. tRNAs encoded in the array are induced in the second phase of the response, directly contributing to cell survival. Results presented here show that in some bacteria the tRNA gene set may be partitioned between a housekeeping subset, which constantly sustains translation, and an inducible subset that is generally silent but can provide functionality under particular conditions.


This article was originally published in Nucleic Acids Research, volume 49, issue 5, in 2021.


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