Most archaea and bacteria use a modified C in the anticodon wobble position of isoleucine tRNA to base pair with A but not with G of the mRNA. This allows the tRNA to read the isoleucine codon AUA without also reading the methionine codon AUG. To understand why a modified C, and not U or modified U, is used to base pair with A, we mutated the C34 in the anticodon of Haloarcula marismortui isoleucine tRNA (tRNA2(Ile)) to U, expressed the mutant tRNA in Haloferax volcanii, and purified and analyzed the tRNA. Ribosome binding experiments show that although the wild-type tRNA2(Ile) binds exclusively to the isoleucine codon AUA, the mutant tRNA binds not only to AUA but also to AUU, another isoleucine codon, and to AUG, a methionine codon. The G34 to U mutant in the anticodon of another H. marismortui isoleucine tRNA species showed similar codon binding properties. Binding of the mutant tRNA to AUG could lead to misreading of the AUG codon and insertion of isoleucine in place of methionine. This result would explain why most archaea and bacteria do not normally use U or a modified U in the anticodon wobble position of isoleucine tRNA for reading the codon AUA. Biochemical and mass spectrometric analyses of the mutant tRNAs have led to the discovery of a new modified nucleoside, 5-cyanomethyl U in the anticodon wobble position of the mutant tRNAs. 5-Cyanomethyl U is present in total tRNAs from euryarchaea but not in crenarchaea, eubacteria, or eukaryotes.
Keywords: 5-cyanomethyl uridine; anticodon wobble position; archaea; codon reading properties; tRNA modification.