Dethlefsen, L. and T. M. Schmidt. 2007. Performance of the translational apparatus varies with the ecological strategies of bacteria. Journal of Bacteriology 189:3237-3245.

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Protein synthesis is the predominant activity of growing bacteria; the protein synthesis system accounts for more than one-half the cell’s dry mass and consumes most of the cell’s energy during rapid growth. Translation has been studied extensively using model organisms, and the translational apparatus is qualitatively similar in terms of structure and function across all known forms of life. However, little is known about variation between organisms in translational performance. Using measurements of macromolecular content in a phylogenetically diverse collection of bacteria with contrasting ecological strategies, we found that the translational power (the rate of protein synthesis normalized to the mass of the protein synthesis system) is three- to fourfold higher among bacteria that respond rapidly to nutrient availability than among bacteria that respond slowly. An analysis of codon use in completely sequenced bacterial genomes confirmed that the selective forces acting on translation vary with the ecological strategy. We propose that differences in translational power result from ecologically based variation among microbes in the relative importance of two competing benefits: reducing the biomass invested in the protein synthesis system and reducing the energetic expense of protein synthesis.

DOI: 10.1128/JB.01686-06

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