Biological evidence for the world's smallest tRNAs
Due to their function as adapters in translation, tRNA molecules share a common structural organization in all kingdoms and organelles with ribosomal protein biosynthesis. A typical tRNA has a cloverleaf-like secondary structure, consisting of acceptor stem, D-arm, anticodon arm, a variable region, and T-arm, with an average length of 73 nucleotides. In several mitochondrial genomes, however, tRNA genes encode transcripts that show a considerable deviation of this standard, having reduced D- or T-arms or even completely lack one of these elements, resulting in tRNAs as small as 66 nts. An extreme case of such truncations is found in the mitochondria of Enoplea. Here, several tRNA genes are annotated that lack both the D- and the T-arm, suggesting even shorter transcripts with a length of only 42 nts. However, direct evidence for these exceptional tRNAs, which were predicted by purely computational means, has been lacking so far. Here, we demonstrate that several of thes e miniaturized armless tRNAs consisting only of acceptor- and anticodon-arms are indeed transcribed and correctly processed by non-encoded CCA addition in the mermithid Romanomermis culicivorax. This is the first direct evidence for the existence and functionality of the smallest tRNAs ever identified so far. It opens new possibilities towards exploration/assessment of minimal structural motifs defining a functional tRNA and their evolution.