Changes in expression patterns may occur when organisms are presented with new environmental challenges, for example following migration or genetic changes. To elucidate the mechanisms by which the translational machinery adapts to such changes, we perturbed the tRNA pool of Saccharomyces cerevisiae by tRNA gene deletion. We then evolved the deletion strain and observed that the genetic adaptation was recurrently based on a strategic mutation that changed the anticodon of other tRNA genes to match that of the deleted one. Strikingly, a systematic search in hundreds of genomes revealed that anticodon mutations occur throughout the tree of life. We further show that the evolution of the tRNA pool also depends on the need to properly couple translation to protein folding. Together, our observations shed light on the evolution of the tRNA pool, demonstrating that mutation in the anticodons of tRNA genes is a common adaptive mechanism when meeting new translational demands. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01339.001.
Keywords: anticodon; evolution; protein folding stress; tRNA genes; translation.