Translation of the genome into functional proteins is critical for cellular life. Accurate protein synthesis relies on proper decoding of mRNAs by the ribosome using aminoacyl-tRNAs. During aminoacyl-tRNA synthesis, stringent substrate discrimination and rigorous product proofreading ensure tRNAs are paired with the correct amino acid, as defined by the rules of the genetic code. What has remained far less clear is the extent to which amino acids that are not part of the genetic code might also threaten translational accuracy. Here, we review the broad range of nonproteinogenic, or nonprotein, amino acids that can naturally accumulate under different conditions, the ability of the translation quality control machinery to deal with such substrates, and their potential impact on the integrity of the genetic code and cellular viability.


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