Many studies have suggested that the modern cloverleaf structure of tRNA may have arisen through duplication of a primordial hairpin, but the timing of this duplication event has been unclear. Here we measure the level of sequence identity between the two halves of each of a large sample of tRNAs and compare this level to that of chimeric tRNAs constructed either within or between groups defined by phylogeny and/or specificity. We find that actual tRNAs have significantly more matches between the two halves than do random sequences that can form the tRNA structure, but there is no difference in the average level of matching between the two halves of an individual tRNA and the average level of matching between the two halves of the chimeric tRNAs in any of the sets we constructed. These results support the hypothesis that the modern tRNA cloverleaf arose from a single hairpin duplication prior to the divergence of modern tRNA specificities and the three domains of life.
tRNA Hairpin duplication Cloverleaf
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This work was supported by a seed grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation RNA Bioinformatics Initiative. We thank members of the Knight and Yarus labs for critical discussion of the manuscript.
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