Degradation of host translational machinery drives tRNA acquisition in viruses

Joy Y. Yang, Wenwen Fang, Fabiola Miranda-Sanchez, Julia M. Brown, Kathryn M. Kauffman, Chantel M. Acevero, David P. Bartel, Martin F. Polz, Libusha Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Viruses are traditionally thought to be under selective pressure to maintain compact genomes and thus depend on host cell translational machinery for reproduction. However, some viruses encode abundant tRNA and other translation-related genes, potentially optimizing for codon usage differences between phage and host. Here, we systematically interrogate selective advantages that carrying 18 tRNAs may convey to a T4-like Vibriophage. Host DNA and RNA degrade upon infection, including host tRNAs, which are replaced by those of the phage. These tRNAs are expressed at levels slightly better adapted to phage codon usage, especially that of late genes. The phage is unlikely to randomly acquire as diverse an array of tRNAs as observed (p = 0.0017). Together, our results support that the main driver behind phage tRNA acquisition is pressure to sustain translation as host machinery degrades, a process resulting in a dynamically adapted codon usage strategy during the course of infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)771-779.e5
JournalCell Systems
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 18 2021


  • phage/host interactions
  • selective pressures
  • tRNA
  • translation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology
  • Cell Biology


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