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Life 2014, 4(4), 1013-1025; doi:10.3390/life4041013

The Stereochemical Basis of the Genetic Code and the (Mostly) Autotrophic Origin of Life

1
Metalloproteins Unit, University Grenoble Alpes, Institut de Biologie Structurale, F-38044 Grenoble, France
2
Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique, Institut de Biologie Structurale, F-38044 Grenoble, France
3
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Institut de Biologie Structurale, F-38044 Grenoble, France 
Received: 23 October 2014 / Revised: 27 November 2014 / Accepted: 11 December 2014 / Published: 16 December 2014
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Origins and Early Evolution of RNA)
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Abstract

Spark-tube experiments and analysis of meteorite contents have led to the widespread notion that abiotic organic molecules were the first life components. However, there is a contradiction between the abundance of simple molecules, such as the amino acids glycine and alanine, observed in these studies, and the minimal functional complexity that even the least sophisticated living system should require. I will argue that although simple abiotic molecules must have primed proto-metabolic pathways, only Darwinian evolving systems could have generated life. This condition may have been initially fulfilled by both replicating RNAs and autocatalytic reaction chains, such as the reductive citric acid cycle. The interactions between nucleotides and biotic amino acids, which conferred new functionalities to the former, also resulted in the progressive stereochemical recognition of the latter by cognate anticodons. At this point only large enough amino acids would be recognized by the primordial RNA adaptors and could polymerize forming the first peptides. The gene duplication of RNA adaptors was a crucial event. By removing one of the anticodons from the acceptor stem the new RNA adaptor liberated itself from the stereochemical constraint and could be acylated by smaller amino acids. The emergence of messenger RNA and codon capture followed. View Full-Text
Keywords: primordial soup; stereochemical era; genetic code; autocatalytic cycle; low-specificity catalysts; origin of life primordial soup; stereochemical era; genetic code; autocatalytic cycle; low-specificity catalysts; origin of life
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Fontecilla-Camps, J.C. The Stereochemical Basis of the Genetic Code and the (Mostly) Autotrophic Origin of Life. Life 2014, 4, 1013-1025.

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