A conserved, independently folding domain in the large ribosomal subunit consists of 58 nt of rRNA and a single protein, L11. The tertiary structure of an rRNA fragment carrying the Escherichia coli sequence is marginally stable in vitro but can be substantially stabilized by mutations found in other organisms. To distinguish between possible reasons why natural selection has not evolved a more stable rRNA structure in E. coli, mutations affecting the rRNA tertiary structure were assessed for their in vitro effects on rRNA stability and L11 affinity (in the context of an rRNA fragment) or in vivo effects on cell growth rate and L11 content of ribosomes. The rRNA fragment stabilities ranged from -4 to +9 kcal/mol relative to the wild-type sequence. Variants in the range of -4 to +5 kcal/mol had almost no observable effect in vivo, while more destabilizing mutations (>7 kcal/mol) were not tolerated. The data suggest that the in vivo stability of the complex is roughly -6 kcal/mol and that any single tertiary interaction is dispensable for function as long as a minimum stability of the complex is maintained. On the basis of these data, it seems that the evolution of this domain has not been constrained by inherent structural or functional limits on stability. The estimated stability corresponds to only a few ribosomes per bacterial cell dissociated from L11 at any time; thus the selective advantage for any further increase in stability may be so small as to be outweighed by other competing selective pressures.
Document Object Identifier (DOI)
American Chemical Society
Maeder, C., Conn, G. L., & Draper, D. E. (2006). Optimization of a ribosomal structural domain by natural selection. Biochemistry, 45(21), 6635-6643. doi:10.1021/bi052544p