Alternate routes to mnm5s2U synthesis in Gram-positive bacteria

J Bacteriol. 2024 Apr 18;206(4):e0045223. doi: 10.1128/jb.00452-23. Epub 2024 Mar 29.


The wobble bases of tRNAs that decode split codons are often heavily modified. In bacteria, tRNAGlu, Gln, Asp contains a variety of xnm5s2U derivatives. The synthesis pathway for these modifications is complex and fully elucidated only in a handful of organisms, including the Gram-negative Escherichia coli K12 model. Despite the ubiquitous presence of mnm5s2U modification, genomic analysis shows the absence of mnmC orthologous genes, suggesting the occurrence of alternate biosynthetic schemes for the conversion of cmnm5s2U to mnm5s2U. Using a combination of comparative genomics and genetic studies, a member of the YtqA subgroup of the radical Sam superfamily was found to be involved in the synthesis of mnm5s2U in both Bacillus subtilis and Streptococcus mutans. This protein, renamed MnmL, is encoded in an operon with the recently discovered MnmM methylase involved in the methylation of the pathway intermediate nm5s2U into mnm5s2U in B. subtilis. Analysis of tRNA modifications of both S. mutans and Streptococcus pneumoniae shows that growth conditions and genetic backgrounds influence the ratios of pathway intermediates owing to regulatory loops that are not yet understood. The MnmLM pathway is widespread along the bacterial tree, with some phyla, such as Bacilli, relying exclusively on these two enzymes. Although mechanistic details of these newly discovered components are not fully resolved, the occurrence of fusion proteins, alternate arrangements of biosynthetic components, and loss of biosynthetic branches provide examples of biosynthetic diversity to retain a conserved tRNA modification in Nature.IMPORTANCEThe xnm5s2U modifications found in several tRNAs at the wobble base position are widespread in bacteria where they have an important role in decoding efficiency and accuracy. This work identifies a novel enzyme (MnmL) that is a member of a subgroup of the very versatile radical SAM superfamily and is involved in the synthesis of mnm5s2U in several Gram-positive bacteria, including human pathogens. This is another novel example of a non-orthologous displacement in the field of tRNA modification synthesis, showing how different solutions evolve to retain U34 tRNA modifications.

Keywords: MnmL; MnmM; YtqA; YtqB; comparative genomics; mnm5s2U; rSAM; sequence similarity network; tRNA modification.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Escherichia coli K12* / genetics
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / genetics
  • Humans
  • Methylation
  • RNA, Transfer* / genetics


  • RNA, Transfer