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Life, Volume 7, Issue 2 (June 2017)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle The Maximal C3 Self-Complementary Trinucleotide Circular Code X in Genes of Bacteria, Archaea, Eukaryotes, Plasmids and Viruses
Life 2017, 7(2), 20; doi:10.3390/life7020020
Received: 6 February 2017 / Revised: 23 March 2017 / Accepted: 31 March 2017 / Published: 18 April 2017
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Abstract
In 1996, a set X of 20 trinucleotides was identified in genes of both prokaryotes and eukaryotes which has on average the highest occurrence in reading frame compared to its two shifted frames. Furthermore, this set X has an interesting mathematical property as
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In 1996, a set X of 20 trinucleotides was identified in genes of both prokaryotes and eukaryotes which has on average the highest occurrence in reading frame compared to its two shifted frames. Furthermore, this set X has an interesting mathematical property as X is a maximal C 3 self-complementary trinucleotide circular code. In 2015, by quantifying the inspection approach used in 1996, the circular code X was confirmed in the genes of bacteria and eukaryotes and was also identified in the genes of plasmids and viruses. The method was based on the preferential occurrence of trinucleotides among the three frames at the gene population level. We extend here this definition at the gene level. This new statistical approach considers all the genes, i.e., of large and small lengths, with the same weight for searching the circular code X . As a consequence, the concept of circular code, in particular the reading frame retrieval, is directly associated to each gene. At the gene level, the circular code X is strengthened in the genes of bacteria, eukaryotes, plasmids, and viruses, and is now also identified in the genes of archaea. The genes of mitochondria and chloroplasts contain a subset of the circular code X . Finally, by studying viral genes, the circular code X was found in DNA genomes, RNA genomes, double-stranded genomes, and single-stranded genomes. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Peptidyl Transferase Center and the Emergence of the Translation System
Life 2017, 7(2), 21; doi:10.3390/life7020021
Received: 14 March 2017 / Revised: 5 April 2017 / Accepted: 17 April 2017 / Published: 25 April 2017
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Abstract
In this work, the three-dimensional (3D) structure of the ancestral Peptidyl Transferase Center (PTC) built by concatamers of ancestral sequences of tRNAs was reconstructed, and its possible interactions with tRNAs molecules were analyzed. The 3D structure of the ancestral PTC was also compared
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In this work, the three-dimensional (3D) structure of the ancestral Peptidyl Transferase Center (PTC) built by concatamers of ancestral sequences of tRNAs was reconstructed, and its possible interactions with tRNAs molecules were analyzed. The 3D structure of the ancestral PTC was also compared with the current PTC of T. thermophilus. Docking experiments between the ancestral PTC and tRNAs suggest that in the origin of the translation system, the PTC functioned as an adhesion center for tRNA molecules. The approximation of tRNAs charged with amino acids to the PTC permitted peptide synthesis without the need of a genetic code. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Landscape of the Emergence of Life)
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Open AccessArticle Thermal Condensation of Glycine and Alanine on Metal Ferrite Surface: Primitive Peptide Bond Formation Scenario
Life 2017, 7(2), 15; doi:10.3390/life7020015
Received: 23 November 2016 / Revised: 13 March 2017 / Accepted: 24 March 2017 / Published: 27 March 2017
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Abstract
The amino acid condensation reaction on a heterogeneous mineral surface has been regarded as one of the important pathways for peptide bond formation. Keeping this in view, we have studied the oligomerization of the simple amino acids, glycine and alanine, on nickel ferrite
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The amino acid condensation reaction on a heterogeneous mineral surface has been regarded as one of the important pathways for peptide bond formation. Keeping this in view, we have studied the oligomerization of the simple amino acids, glycine and alanine, on nickel ferrite (NiFe2O4), cobalt ferrite (CoFe2O4), copper ferrite (CuFe2O4), zinc ferrite (ZnFe2O4), and manganese ferrite (MnFe2O4) nanoparticles surfaces, in the temperature range from 50–120 °C for 1–35 days, without applying any wetting/drying cycles. Among the metal ferrites tested for their catalytic activity, NiFe2O4 produced the highest yield of products by oligomerizing glycine to the trimer level and alanine to the dimer level, whereas MnFe2O4 was the least efficient catalyst, producing the lowest yield of products, as well as shorter oligomers of amino acids under the same set of experimental conditions. It produced primarily diketopiperazine (Ala) with a trace amount of alanine dimer from alanine condensation, while glycine was oligomerized to the dimer level. The trend in product formation is in accordance with the surface area of the minerals used. A temperature as low as 50 °C can even favor peptide bond formation in the present study, which is important in the sense that the condensation process is highly feasible without any sort of localized heat that may originate from volcanoes or hydrothermal vents. However, at a high temperature of 120 °C, anhydrides of glycine and alanine formation are favored, while the optimum temperature for the highest yield of product formation was found to be 90 °C. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Landscape of the Emergence of Life)
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Open AccessArticle Prebiotic Factors Influencing the Activity of a Ligase Ribozyme
Life 2017, 7(2), 17; doi:10.3390/life7020017
Received: 31 January 2017 / Revised: 28 March 2017 / Accepted: 1 April 2017 / Published: 6 April 2017
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Abstract
An RNA-lipid origin of life scenario provides a plausible route for compartmentalized replication of an informational polymer and subsequent division of the container. However, a full narrative to form such RNA protocells implies that catalytic RNA molecules, called ribozymes, can operate in the
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An RNA-lipid origin of life scenario provides a plausible route for compartmentalized replication of an informational polymer and subsequent division of the container. However, a full narrative to form such RNA protocells implies that catalytic RNA molecules, called ribozymes, can operate in the presence of self-assembled vesicles composed of prebiotically relevant constituents, such as fatty acids. Hereby, we subjected a newly engineered truncated variant of the L1 ligase ribozyme, named tL1, to various environmental conditions that may have prevailed on the early Earth with the objective to find a set of control parameters enabling both tL1-catalyzed ligation and formation of stable myristoleic acid (MA) vesicles. The separate and concurrent effects of temperature, concentrations of Mg2+, MA, polyethylene glycol and various solutes were investigated. The most favorable condition tested consists of 100 mM NaCl, 1 mM Mg2+, 5 mM MA, and 4 °C temperature, whereas the addition of Mg2+-chelating solutes, such as citrate, tRNAs, aspartic acid, and nucleoside triphosphates severely inhibits the reaction. These results further solidify the RNA-lipid world hypothesis and stress the importance of using a systems chemistry approach whereby a wide range of prebiotic factors interfacing with ribozymes are considered. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Origin of Cellular Life)
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Open AccessArticle Evo-SETI: A Mathematical Tool for Cladistics, Evolution, and SETI
Life 2017, 7(2), 18; doi:10.3390/life7020018
Received: 21 January 2017 / Revised: 9 March 2017 / Accepted: 21 March 2017 / Published: 6 April 2017
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Abstract
The discovery of new exoplanets makes us wonder where each new exoplanet stands along its way to develop life as we know it on Earth. Our Evo-SETI Theory is a mathematical way to face this problem. We describe cladistics and evolution by virtue
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The discovery of new exoplanets makes us wonder where each new exoplanet stands along its way to develop life as we know it on Earth. Our Evo-SETI Theory is a mathematical way to face this problem. We describe cladistics and evolution by virtue of a few statistical equations based on lognormal probability density functions (pdf) in the time. We call b-lognormal a lognormal pdf starting at instant b (birth). Then, the lifetime of any living being becomes a suitable b-lognormal in the time. Next, our “Peak-Locus Theorem” translates cladistics: each species created by evolution is a b-lognormal whose peak lies on the exponentially growing number of living species. This exponential is the mean value of a stochastic process called “Geometric Brownian Motion” (GBM). Past mass extinctions were all-lows of this GBM. In addition, the Shannon Entropy (with a reversed sign) of each b-lognormal is the measure of how evolved that species is, and we call it EvoEntropy. The “molecular clock” is re-interpreted as the EvoEntropy straight line in the time whenever the mean value is exactly the GBM exponential. We were also able to extend the Peak-Locus Theorem to any mean value other than the exponential. For example, we derive in this paper for the first time the EvoEntropy corresponding to the Markov-Korotayev (2007) “cubic” evolution: a curve of logarithmic increase. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Landscape of the Emergence of Life)
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Review

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Open AccessReview The Genetic Code and RNA-Amino Acid Affinities
Life 2017, 7(2), 13; doi:10.3390/life7020013
Received: 17 February 2017 / Revised: 16 March 2017 / Accepted: 17 March 2017 / Published: 23 March 2017
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Abstract
A significant part of the genetic code likely originated via a chemical interaction, which should be experimentally verifiable. One possible verification relates bound amino acids (or perhaps their activated congeners) and ribonucleotide sequences within cognate RNA binding sites. To introduce this interaction, I
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A significant part of the genetic code likely originated via a chemical interaction, which should be experimentally verifiable. One possible verification relates bound amino acids (or perhaps their activated congeners) and ribonucleotide sequences within cognate RNA binding sites. To introduce this interaction, I first summarize how amino acids function as targets for RNA binding. Then the experimental method for selecting relevant RNA binding sites is characterized. The selection method’s characteristics are related to the investigation of the RNA binding site model treated at the outset. Finally, real binding sites from selection and also from extant natural RNAs (for example, the Sulfobacillus guanidinium riboswitch) are connected to the genetic code, and by extension, to the evolutionary progression that produced the code. During this process, peptides may have been produced directly on an instructive amino acid binding RNA (a DRT; Direct RNA Template). Combination of observed stereochemical selectivity with adaptation and co-evolutionary refinement is logically required, and also potentially sufficient, to create the striking order conserved throughout the present coding table. Full article
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Open AccessReview Self-Referential Encoding on Modules of Anticodon Pairs—Roots of the Biological Flow System
Life 2017, 7(2), 16; doi:10.3390/life7020016
Received: 13 January 2017 / Revised: 24 March 2017 / Accepted: 26 March 2017 / Published: 6 April 2017
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Abstract
The proposal that the genetic code was formed on the basis of (proto)tRNA Dimer-Directed Protein Synthesis is reviewed and updated. The tRNAs paired through the anticodon loops are an indication on the process. Dimers are considered mimics of the ribosomes—structures that hold tRNAs
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The proposal that the genetic code was formed on the basis of (proto)tRNA Dimer-Directed Protein Synthesis is reviewed and updated. The tRNAs paired through the anticodon loops are an indication on the process. Dimers are considered mimics of the ribosomes—structures that hold tRNAs together and facilitate the transferase reaction, and of the translation process—anticodons are at the same time codons for each other. The primitive protein synthesis system gets stabilized when the product peptides are stable and apt to bind the producers therewith establishing a self-stimulating production cycle. The chronology of amino acid encoding starts with Glycine and Serine, indicating the metabolic support of the Glycine-Serine C1-assimilation pathway, which is also consistent with evidence on origins of bioenergetics mechanisms. Since it is not possible to reach for substrates simpler than C1 and compounds in the identified pathway are apt for generating the other central metabolic routes, it is considered that protein synthesis is the beginning and center of a succession of sink-effective mechanisms that drive the formation and evolution of the metabolic flow system. Plasticity and diversification of proteins construct the cellular system following the orientation given by the flow and implementing it. Nucleic acid monomers participate in bioenergetics and the polymers are conservative memory systems for the synthesis of proteins. Protoplasmic fission is the final sink-effective mechanism, part of cell reproduction, guaranteeing that proteins don’t accumulate to saturation, which would trigger inhibition. Full article
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Open AccessReview Small and Random Peptides: An Unexplored Reservoir of Potentially Functional Primitive Organocatalysts. The Case of Seryl-Histidine
Life 2017, 7(2), 19; doi:10.3390/life7020019
Received: 5 February 2017 / Revised: 3 April 2017 / Accepted: 5 April 2017 / Published: 9 April 2017
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Abstract
Catalysis is an essential feature of living systems biochemistry, and probably, it played a key role in primordial times, helping to produce more complex molecules from simple ones. However, enzymes, the biocatalysts par excellence, were not available in such an ancient context, and
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Catalysis is an essential feature of living systems biochemistry, and probably, it played a key role in primordial times, helping to produce more complex molecules from simple ones. However, enzymes, the biocatalysts par excellence, were not available in such an ancient context, and so, instead, small molecule catalysis (organocatalysis) may have occurred. The best candidates for the role of primitive organocatalysts are amino acids and short random peptides, which are believed to have been available in an early period on Earth. In this review, we discuss the occurrence of primordial organocatalysts in the form of peptides, in particular commenting on reports about seryl-histidine dipeptide, which have recently been investigated. Starting from this specific case, we also mention a peptide fragment condensation scenario, as well as other potential roles of peptides in primordial times. The review actually aims to stimulate further investigation on an unexplored field of research, namely one that specifically looks at the catalytic activity of small random peptides with respect to reactions relevant to prebiotic chemistry and early chemical evolution. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Emergence of Life: From Chemical Origins to Synthetic Biology)
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Other

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Open AccessConcept Paper Frozen Accident Pushing 50: Stereochemistry, Expansion, and Chance in the Evolution of the Genetic Code
Life 2017, 7(2), 22; doi:10.3390/life7020022
Received: 10 March 2017 / Revised: 19 May 2017 / Accepted: 20 May 2017 / Published: 23 May 2017
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Abstract
Nearly 50 years ago, Francis Crick propounded the frozen accident scenario for the evolution of the genetic code along with the hypothesis that the early translation system consisted primarily of RNA. Under the frozen accident perspective, the code is universal among modern life
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Nearly 50 years ago, Francis Crick propounded the frozen accident scenario for the evolution of the genetic code along with the hypothesis that the early translation system consisted primarily of RNA. Under the frozen accident perspective, the code is universal among modern life forms because any change in codon assignment would be highly deleterious. The frozen accident can be considered the default theory of code evolution because it does not imply any specific interactions between amino acids and the cognate codons or anticodons, or any particular properties of the code. The subsequent 49 years of code studies have elucidated notable features of the standard code, such as high robustness to errors, but failed to develop a compelling explanation for codon assignments. In particular, stereochemical affinity between amino acids and the cognate codons or anticodons does not seem to account for the origin and evolution of the code. Here, I expand Crick’s hypothesis on RNA-only translation system by presenting evidence that this early translation already attained high fidelity that allowed protein evolution. I outline an experimentally testable scenario for the evolution of the code that combines a distinct version of the stereochemical hypothesis, in which amino acids are recognized via unique sites in the tertiary structure of proto-tRNAs, rather than by anticodons, expansion of the code via proto-tRNA duplication, and the frozen accident. Full article
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Open AccessConcept Paper What Froze the Genetic Code?
Life 2017, 7(2), 14; doi:10.3390/life7020014
Received: 2 March 2017 / Revised: 27 March 2017 / Accepted: 3 April 2017 / Published: 5 April 2017
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Abstract
The frozen accident theory of the Genetic Code was a proposal by Francis Crick that attempted to explain the universal nature of the Genetic Code and the fact that it only contains information for twenty amino acids. Fifty years later, it is clear
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The frozen accident theory of the Genetic Code was a proposal by Francis Crick that attempted to explain the universal nature of the Genetic Code and the fact that it only contains information for twenty amino acids. Fifty years later, it is clear that variations to the universal Genetic Code exist in nature and that translation is not limited to twenty amino acids. However, given the astonishing diversity of life on earth, and the extended evolutionary time that has taken place since the emergence of the extant Genetic Code, the idea that the translation apparatus is for the most part immobile remains true. Here, we will offer a potential explanation to the reason why the code has remained mostly stable for over three billion years, and discuss some of the mechanisms that allow species to overcome the intrinsic functional limitations of the protein synthesis machinery. Full article
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