Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Genomics and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Genomic organization of eukaryotic tRNAs

Clara Bermudez-Santana12, Camille Stephan-Otto Attolini14, Toralf Kirsten1, Jan Engelhardt1, Sonja J Prohaska1, Stephan Steigele3 and Peter F Stadler15678*

Author Affiliations

1 Bioinformatics Group, Department of Computer Science and Interdisciplinary Center for Bioinformatics, University of Leipzig, Härtelstraße 16-18, D-04107, Leipzig, Germany

2 Department of Biology, Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Carrera45 # 26-85 - Edificio Uriel Gutiérrez, Bogotá D.C., Colombia

3 Genedata AG Maulbeerstrasse 46 CH 4016 Basel, Switzerland

4 Biostatistics and Bioinformatics unit, Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), Barcelona, Spain

5 Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences, Inselstraß 22 D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

6 Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology, Perlickstraße 1, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

7 Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Rd, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA

8 Institute for Theoretical Chemistry, University of Vienna, Währingerstraße 17, A-1090 Wien, Austria

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Genomics 2010, 11:270  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-270

Published: 28 April 2010



Surprisingly little is known about the organization and distribution of tRNA genes and tRNA-related sequences on a genome-wide scale. While tRNA gene complements are usually reported in passing as part of genome annotation efforts, and peculiar features such as the tandem arrangements of tRNA gene in Entamoeba histolytica have been described in some detail, systematic comparative studies are rare and mostly restricted to bacteria. We therefore set out to survey the genomic arrangement of tRNA genes and pseudogenes in a wide range of eukaryotes to identify common patterns and taxon-specific peculiarities.


In line with previous reports, we find that tRNA complements evolve rapidly and tRNA gene and pseudogene locations are subject to rapid turnover. At phylum level, the distributions of the number of tRNA genes and pseudogenes numbers are very broad, with standard deviations on the order of the mean. Even among closely related species we observe dramatic changes in local organization. For instance, 65% and 87% of the tRNA genes and pseudogenes are located in genomic clusters in zebrafish and stickleback, resp., while such arrangements are relatively rare in the other three sequenced teleost fish genomes. Among basal metazoa, Trichoplax adhaerens has hardly any duplicated tRNA gene, while the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis boasts more than 17000 tRNA genes and pseudogenes. Dramatic variations are observed even within the eutherian mammals. Higher primates, for instance, have 616 ± 120 tRNA genes and pseudogenes of which 17% to 36% are arranged in clusters, while the genome of the bushbaby Otolemur garnetti has 45225 tRNA genes and pseudogenes of which only 5.6% appear in clusters. In contrast, the distribution is surprisingly uniform across plant genomes. Consistent with this variability, syntenic conservation of tRNA genes and pseudogenes is also poor in general, with turn-over rates comparable to those of unconstrained sequence elements. Despite this large variation in abundance in Eukarya we observe a significant correlation between the number of tRNA genes, tRNA pseudogenes, and genome size.


The genomic organization of tRNA genes and pseudogenes shows complex lineage-specific patterns characterized by an extensive variability that is in striking contrast to the extreme levels of sequence-conservation of the tRNAs themselves. The comprehensive analysis of the genomic organization of tRNA genes and pseudogenes in Eukarya provides a basis for further studies into the interplay of tRNA gene arrangements and genome organization in general.