Background: In all domains of life, transfer RNA (tRNA) molecules contain modified nucleosides. Modifications to tRNAs affect their coding capacity and influence codon-anticodon interactions. Nucleoside modification deficiencies have a diverse range of effects, from decreased virulence in bacteria, neural system disease in human, and gene expression and stress response changes in plants. The purpose of this study was to identify genes involved in tRNA modification in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, to understand the function of nucleoside modifications in plant growth and development. Results: In this study, we established a method for analyzing modified nucleosides in tRNAs from the model plant species, Arabidopsis thaliana and hybrid aspen (Populus tremula x tremuloides). 21 modified nucleosides in tRNAs were identified in both species. To identify the genes responsible for the plant tRNA modifications, we performed global analysis of the Arabidopsis genome for candidate genes. Based on the conserved domains of homologs in Sacccharomyces cerevisiae and Escherichia coli, more than 90 genes were predicted to encode tRNA modifying enzymes in the Arabidopsis genome. Transcript accumulation patterns for the genes in Arabidopsis and the phylogenetic distribution of the genes among different plant species were investigated. Transcripts for the majority of the Arabidopsis candidate genes were found to be most abundant in rosette leaves and shoot apices. Whereas most of the tRNA modifying gene families identified in the Arabidopsis genome was found to be present in other plant species, there was a big variation in the number of genes present for each family. Through a loss of function mutagenesis study, we identified five tRNA modification genes (AtTRM10, AtTRM11, AtTRM82, AtKTI12 and AtELP1) responsible for four specific modified nucleosides (m1G, m2G, m7G and ncm5U), respectively (two genes: AtKTI12 and AtELP1 identified for ncm5U modification). The AtTRM11 mutant exhibited an early-flowering phenotype, and the AtELP1 mutant had narrow leaves, reduced root growth, an aberrant silique shape and defects in the generation of secondary shoots. Conclusions: Using a reverse genetics approach, we successfully isolated and identified five tRNA modification genes in Arabidopsis thaliana. We conclude that the method established in this study will facilitate the identification of tRNA modification genes in a wide variety of plant species.
BioMed Central, 2010. Vol. 10, 201