Modeling the effect of rRNA-mRNA interactions and mRNA folding on mRNA translation in chloroplasts

Stav Carmel Ezra, Tamir Tuller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The process of translation initiation in prokaryotes is mediated by the hybridization of the 16S rRNA of the small ribosomal subunit with the mRNA in a short region called the ribosomal binding site. However, translation initiation in chloroplasts, which have evolved from an ancestral bacterium, is not well understood. Some studies suggest that in many cases it differs from translation initiation in bacteria and involves various novel interactions of the mRNA structures with intracellular factors; however currently, there is no generic quantitative model related to these aspects in chloroplasts. We developed a novel computational pipeline and models that can be used for understanding and modeling translation regulation in chloroplasts. We demonstrate that local folding and co-folding energy of the rRNA and the mRNA correlates with codon usage estimators of expression levels (r = −0.63) and infer predictive models that connect these energies and codon usage to protein levels (with correlation up to 0.71). In addition, we demonstrate that the ends of the transcripts in chloroplasts are populated with various structural elements that may be functional. Furthermore, we report a database of 166 novel structures in the chloroplast transcripts that are predicted to be functional. We believe that the models reported here improve existing understandings of genomic evolution and the biophysics of translation in chloroplasts; as such, they can aid gene expression engineering in chloroplasts for various biotechnological objectives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2521-2538
Number of pages18
JournalComputational and Structural Biotechnology Journal
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Chloroplasts
  • Chloroplasts evolution
  • Functional mRNA structures
  • Gene expression optimization
  • mRNA folding
  • mRNA translation
  • rRNA-mRNA interactions


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