Life2015, 5(2), 1301-1332; doi:10.3390/life5021301 - published 24 April 2015 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: The standard genetic code (SGC) is central to molecular biology and its origin and evolution is a fundamental problem in evolutionary biology, the elucidation of which promises to reveal much about the origins of life. In addition, we propose that study of its origin can also reveal some fundamental and generalizable insights into mechanisms of molecular evolution, utilizing concepts from complexity theory. The first is that beneficial traits may arise by non-adaptive processes, via a process of “neutral emergence”. The structure of the SGC is optimized for the property of error minimization, which reduces the deleterious impact of point mutations. Via simulation, it can be shown that genetic codes with error minimization superior to the SGC can emerge in a neutral fashion simply by a process of genetic code expansion via tRNA and aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase duplication, whereby similar amino acids are added to codons related to that of the parent amino acid. This process of neutral emergence has implications beyond that of the genetic code, as it suggests that not all beneficial traits have arisen by the direct action of natural selection; we term these “pseudaptations”, and discuss a range of potential examples. Secondly, consideration of genetic code deviations (codon reassignments) reveals that these are mostly associated with a reduction in proteome size. This code malleability implies the existence of a proteomic constraint on the genetic code, proportional to the size of the proteome (P), and that its reduction in size leads to an “unfreezing” of the codon – amino acid mapping that defines the genetic code, consistent with Crick’s Frozen Accident theory. The concept of a proteomic constraint may be extended to propose a general informational constraint on genetic fidelity, which may be used to explain variously, differences in mutation rates in genomes with differing proteome sizes, differences in DNA repair capacity and genome GC content between organisms, a selective pressure in the evolution of sexual reproduction, and differences in translational fidelity. Lastly, the utility of the concept of an informational constraint to other diverse fields of research is explored.
Life2015, 5(2), 1282-1300; doi:10.3390/life5021282 - published 23 April 2015 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Anabaena sp. strain PCC 7120 is a filamentous cyanobacterium that can use inorganic compounds such as nitrate or ammonium as nitrogen sources. In the absence of combined nitrogen, it can fix N2 in differentiated cells called heterocysts. Anabaena also shows substantial activities of amino acid uptake, and three ABC-type transporters for amino acids have been previously characterized. Seven new loci encoding predicted amino acid transporters were identified in the Anabaena genomic sequence and inactivated. Two of them were involved in amino acid uptake. Locus alr2535-alr2541 encodes the elements of a hydrophobic amino acid ABC-type transporter that is mainly involved in the uptake of glycine. ORF all0342 encodes a putative transporter from the dicarboxylate/amino acid:cation symporter (DAACS) family whose inactivation resulted in an increased uptake of a broad range of amino acids. An assay to study amino acid release from Anabaena filaments to the external medium was set up. Net release of the alanine analogue α-aminoisobutyric acid (AIB) was observed when transport system N-I (a hydrophobic amino acid ABC-type transporter) was engaged in the uptake of a specific substrate. The rate of AIB release was directly proportional to the intracellular AIB concentration, suggesting leakage from the cells by diffusion.
Life2015, 5(2), 1264-1281; doi:10.3390/life5021264 - published 21 April 2015 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Sm and Sm-like proteins represent an evolutionarily conserved family with key roles in RNA metabolism. Sm-based regulation is diverse and can range in scope from eukaryotic mRNA splicing to bacterial quorum sensing, with at least one step in these processes being mediated by an RNA-associated molecular assembly built on Sm proteins. Despite the availability of several 3D-structures of Sm-like archaeal proteins (SmAPs), their function has remained elusive. The aim of this study was to shed light on the function of SmAP1 and SmAP2 of the crenarchaeon Sulfolobus solfataricus (Sso). Using co-purification followed by RNASeq different classes of non-coding RNAs and mRNAs were identified that co-purified either with both paralogues or solely with Sso-SmAP1 or Sso-SmAP2. The large number of associated intron-containing tRNAs and tRNA/rRNA modifying RNAs may suggest a role of the two Sso-SmAPs in tRNA/rRNA processing. Moreover, the 3D structure of Sso-SmAP2 was elucidated. Like Sso-SmAP1, Sso-SmAP2 forms homoheptamers. The binding of both proteins to distinct RNA substrates is discussed in terms of surface conservation, structural differences in the RNA binding sites and differences in the electrostatic surface potential of the two Sso-SmAP proteins. Taken together, this study may hint to common and different functions of both Sso-SmAPs in Sso RNA metabolism.
Life2015, 5(2), 1239-1263; doi:10.3390/life5021239 - published 10 April 2015 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Contemporary biological cells are highly sophisticated dynamic compartment systems which separate an internal volume from the external medium through a boundary, which controls, in complex ways, the exchange of matter and energy between the cell’s interior and the environment. Since such compartmentalization is a fundamental principle of all forms of life, scenarios have been elaborated about the emergence of prebiological compartments on early Earth, in particular about their likely structural characteristics and dynamic features. Chemical systems that consist of potentially prebiological compartments and chemical reaction networks have been designed to model pre-cellular systems. These systems are often referred to as “protocells”. Past and current protocell model systems are presented and compared. Since the prebiotic formation of cell-like compartments is directly linked to the prebiotic availability of compartment building blocks, a few aspects on the likely chemical inventory on the early Earth are also summarized.
Abstract: Exopolysaccharides (EPSs) are an important class of biopolymers with great ecological importance. In natural environments, they are a common feature of microbial biofilms, where they play key protective and structural roles. As the primary colonizers of constrained environments, such as desert soils and lithic and exposed substrates, cyanobacteria are the first contributors to the synthesis of the EPSs constituting the extracellular polymeric matrix that favors the formation of microbial associations with varying levels of complexity called biofilms. Cyanobacterial colonization represents the first step for the formation of biofilms with different levels of complexity. In all of the possible systems in which cyanobacteria are involved, the synthesis of EPSs contributes a structurally-stable and hydrated microenvironment, as well as chemical/physical protection against biotic and abiotic stress factors. Notwithstanding the important roles of cyanobacterial EPSs, many aspects related to their roles and the relative elicited biotic and abiotic factors have still to be clarified. The aim of this survey is to outline the state-of-the-art of the importance of the cyanobacterial EPS excretion, both for the producing cells and for the microbial associations in which cyanobacteria are a key component.
Life2015, 5(2), 1204-1217; doi:10.3390/life5021204 - published 30 March 2015 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: We simulate pH-dependent growth of cyanobacteria with an ecosystem model for the central Baltic Sea. Four model components—a life cycle model of cyanobacteria, a biogeochemical model, a carbonate chemistry model and a water column model—are coupled via the framework for aquatic biogeochemical models. The coupled model is forced by the output of a regional climate model, based on the A1B emission scenario. With this coupled model, we perform simulations for the period 1968–2098. Our simulation experiments suggest that in the future, cyanobacteria growth is hardly affected by the projected pH decrease. However, in the simulation phase prior to 1980, cyanobacteria growth and N2-fixation are limited by the relatively high pH. The observed absence of cyanobacteria before the 1960s may thus be explained not only by lower eutrophication levels, but also by a higher alkalinity.