Special Issue "The Origin and Evolution of the Genetic Code"


A special issue of Life (ISSN 2075-1729). This special issue belongs to the section "Life Sciences".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (28 February 2015)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Hyman Hartman
Department of Earth, Atmosphere and Planetary Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
Website: http://segovia.mit.edu/~hartman/
E-Mail: hhartman@mit.edu
Interests: origin of life; origin of the eukaryotic cell; origin and evolution of photosynthesis; origin and evolution of metabolism; origin and evolution of the genetic code; the clay hypothesis

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Temple F. Smith
Professor Emeritus, BioMolecular Engineering Research Center, Boston University, 36 Cummington Street, Boston, MA 02215, USA
Website: http://www.bu.edu/bme/people/emeritus-faculty/smitht/
E-Mail: templesmith1@comcast.net
Interests: the syntactic and semantic structure of the genetic information in biomolecular sequences; structures; and their evolution

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The identification of the genetic code was one of the most important advances of modern biology. The standard code is a mapping of 64 codons onto a set of 20 amino acids and the stop signal. Such landmark work was presented fifty years ago by Marshall W. Nirenberg at the IUB meeting in New York City, on 31 July 1964. Until relatively recently, the code was thought to be invariable, frozen, in all organisms, because of the way in which any change would produce widespread alteration in the amino acid sequences of proteins. The universality of the genetic code was first challenged in 1979, when mammalian mitochondria were found to use a code that deviated somewhat from the “universal”. Since then, the interplay of the evolutionary forces that shaped the structure of the code has been a subject of intense debate. The discovery of a number of variations, not only in mitochondria from various sources but also in eubacterial and nuclear systems, indicates that the genetic code has evolved and may still be evolving. Interestingly, such major discovery brought puzzling questions, e.g., if the genetic codes could easily evolve, why are all variations minor?

In addition, it has been clear for many years that the “code” is not just written and read between the codon and anti-codons, but in the specificity of the tRNA Synthetases in the attachment of the correct amino acid to the corresponding tRNA. The origin and evolution of both of these aspects of the Genetic Code are still areas of research and speculation today. In this context, exactly fifty years after the presentation of the genetic code by Marshall W. Nirenberg, Life launched in July 2014 this special issue in which leading experts will discuss the theme and its impact on many aspects of science. Our aim is to provide a comprehensive and reliable source of information that will help us to understand the natural history of the genetic code and the directly associated components of the extant translational system. There are intriguing questions, such as: What is the origin of the genetic code? What are the principles governing and/or restricting its evolution, and what alternate codes might or could have existed resulting in similar complex life?

Prof. Dr. Hyman Hartman
Prof. Dr. Temple F. Smith
Guest Editors


Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. Papers will be published continuously (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are refereed through a peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Life is an international peer-reviewed Open Access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 300 CHF (Swiss Francs). English correction and/or formatting fees of 250 CHF (Swiss Francs) will be charged in certain cases for those articles accepted for publication that require extensive additional formatting and/or English corrections.


  • variability of the genetic code
  • origins of the genetic code
  • directional mutation pressure
  • evolution of the genetic code
  • mitochondrial/cloroplast genetic code
  • evolutionary optimization of the code
  • restricted amino acid alphabet
  • coordinate translational system evolution
  • multiple sequence codes

Published Papers (1 paper)

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p. 467-505
Life 2015, 5(1), 467-505; doi:10.3390/life5010467
Received: 8 December 2014 / Accepted: 2 February 2015 / Published: 11 February 2015
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Last update: 11 August 2014

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