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Birds take tRNA efficiency to new heights

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Birds have been shaped by evolution in many ways that have made them distinct from their vertebrate cousins. Over millions of years of evolution, our feathered friends have taken to the skies, accompanied by unique changes to their skeleton, musculature, respiration, and even reproductive systems. Recent genomic analyses have identified another unique aspect of the avian lineage: streamlined genomes. Although bird genomes contain roughly the same number of protein-coding genes as other vertebrates, their genomes are smaller, containing less noncoding DNA. Scientists are still exploring the potential consequences of this genome reduction on bird biology. In a new article in Genome Biology and Evolution titled "Genome size reduction and transposon activity impact tRNA gene diversity while ensuring translational stability in birds," Claudia Kutter and her colleagues reveal that, in addition to fewer protein-coding genes, bird genomes also contain surprisingly few tRNA genes, while nonetheless exhibiting the same tRNA usage patterns as other vertebrates. As tRNaAs are a pivotal part of the cellular machinery that translates messenger RNA (mRNA) into protein, this suggests that birds have evolved to use their limited tRNA repertoire more efficiently.

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