Transfer RNAs (tRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs with lengths of approximately 70–100 nt. They are directly involved in protein synthesis by carrying amino acids to the ribosome. In this sense, tRNAs are key molecules that connect the RNA world and the protein world. Thus, study of the evolution of tRNA molecules may reveal the processes that led to the establishment of the central dogma: genetic information flows from DNA to RNA to protein. Thanks to the development of DNA sequencers in this century, we have determined a huge number of nucleotide sequences from complete genomes as well as from transcriptomes in many species. Recent analyses of these large data sets have shown that particular tRNA genes, especially in Archaea, are disrupted in unique ways: some tRNA genes contain multiple introns and some are split genes. Even tRNA molecules themselves are fragmented post-transcriptionally in many species. These fragmented small RNAs are known as tRNA-derived fragments (tRFs). In this review, I summarize the progress of research into the disrupted tRNA genes and the tRFs, and propose a possible model for the molecular evolution of tRNAs based on the concept of the combination of fragmented tRNA halves.
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