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Life, Volume 6, Issue 1 (March 2016) – 14 articles

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Open AccessArticle
Coevolution Theory of the Genetic Code at Age Forty: Pathway to Translation and Synthetic Life
Life 2016, 6(1), 12; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010012 - 16 Mar 2016
Cited by 38 | Viewed by 4353
Abstract
The origins of the components of genetic coding are examined in the present study. Genetic information arose from replicator induction by metabolite in accordance with the metabolic expansion law. Messenger RNA and transfer RNA stemmed from a template for binding the aminoacyl-RNA synthetase [...] Read more.
The origins of the components of genetic coding are examined in the present study. Genetic information arose from replicator induction by metabolite in accordance with the metabolic expansion law. Messenger RNA and transfer RNA stemmed from a template for binding the aminoacyl-RNA synthetase ribozymes employed to synthesize peptide prosthetic groups on RNAs in the Peptidated RNA World. Coevolution of the genetic code with amino acid biosynthesis generated tRNA paralogs that identify a last universal common ancestor (LUCA) of extant life close to Methanopyrus, which in turn points to archaeal tRNA introns as the most primitive introns and the anticodon usage of Methanopyrus as an ancient mode of wobble. The prediction of the coevolution theory of the genetic code that the code should be a mutable code has led to the isolation of optional and mandatory synthetic life forms with altered protein alphabets. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Emergence of Life: From Chemical Origins to Synthetic Biology)
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Open AccessArticle
Codon Distribution in Error-Detecting Circular Codes
Life 2016, 6(1), 14; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010014 - 15 Mar 2016
Cited by 9 | Viewed by 2223
Abstract
In 1957, Francis Crick et al. suggested an ingenious explanation for the process of frame maintenance. The idea was based on the notion of comma-free codes. Although Crick’s hypothesis proved to be wrong, in 1996, Arquès and Michel discovered the existence of a [...] Read more.
In 1957, Francis Crick et al. suggested an ingenious explanation for the process of frame maintenance. The idea was based on the notion of comma-free codes. Although Crick’s hypothesis proved to be wrong, in 1996, Arquès and Michel discovered the existence of a weaker version of such codes in eukaryote and prokaryote genomes, namely the so-called circular codes. Since then, circular code theory has invariably evoked great interest and made significant progress. In this article, the codon distributions in maximal comma-free, maximal self-complementary C3 and maximal self-complementary circular codes are discussed, i.e., we investigate in how many of such codes a given codon participates. As the main (and surprising) result, it is shown that the codons can be separated into very few classes (three, or five, or six) with respect to their frequency. Moreover, the distribution classes can be hierarchically ordered as refinements from maximal comma-free codes via maximal self-complementary C3 codes to maximal self-complementary circular codes. Full article
(This article belongs to the Section Life Sciences)
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Open AccessReview
From Prebiotics to Probiotics: The Evolution and Functions of tRNA Modifications
Life 2016, 6(1), 13; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010013 - 14 Mar 2016
Cited by 13 | Viewed by 3528
Abstract
All nucleic acids in cells are subject to post-transcriptional chemical modifications. These are catalyzed by a myriad of enzymes with exquisite specificity and that utilize an often-exotic array of chemical substrates. In no molecule are modifications more prevalent than in transfer RNAs. In [...] Read more.
All nucleic acids in cells are subject to post-transcriptional chemical modifications. These are catalyzed by a myriad of enzymes with exquisite specificity and that utilize an often-exotic array of chemical substrates. In no molecule are modifications more prevalent than in transfer RNAs. In the present document, we will attempt to take a chemical rollercoaster ride from prebiotic times to the present, with nucleoside modifications as key players and tRNA as the centerpiece that drove the evolution of biological systems to where we are today. These ideas will be put forth while touching on several examples of tRNA modification enzymes and their modus operandi in cells. In passing, we submit that the choice of tRNA is not a whimsical one but rather highlights its critical function as an essential invention for the evolution of protein enzymes. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Evolution of tRNA)
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Open AccessArticle
Support Values for Genome Phylogenies
Life 2016, 6(1), 11; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010011 - 07 Mar 2016
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2386
Abstract
We have recently developed a distance metric for efficiently estimating the number of substitutions per site between unaligned genome sequences. These substitution rates are called “anchor distances” and can be used for phylogeny reconstruction. Most phylogenies come with bootstrap support values, which are [...] Read more.
We have recently developed a distance metric for efficiently estimating the number of substitutions per site between unaligned genome sequences. These substitution rates are called “anchor distances” and can be used for phylogeny reconstruction. Most phylogenies come with bootstrap support values, which are computed by resampling with replacement columns of homologous residues from the original alignment. Unfortunately, this method cannot be applied to anchor distances, as they are based on approximate pairwise local alignments rather than the full multiple sequence alignment necessary for the classical bootstrap. We explore two alternatives: pairwise bootstrap and quartet analysis, which we compare to classical bootstrap. With simulated sequences and 53 human primate mitochondrial genomes, pairwise bootstrap gives better results than quartet analysis. However, when applied to 29 E. coli genomes, quartet analysis comes closer to the classical bootstrap. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Structure and Evolution of Genome)
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Open AccessHypothesis
Clues to tRNA Evolution from the Distribution of Class II tRNAs and Serine Codons in the Genetic Code
Life 2016, 6(1), 10; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010010 - 24 Feb 2016
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 3322
Abstract
We have previously proposed that tRNAGly was the first tRNA and glycine was the first amino acid incorporated into the genetic code. The next two amino acids incorporated would have been the other two small hydrophilic amino acids serine and aspartic acid, [...] Read more.
We have previously proposed that tRNAGly was the first tRNA and glycine was the first amino acid incorporated into the genetic code. The next two amino acids incorporated would have been the other two small hydrophilic amino acids serine and aspartic acid, which occurred through the duplication of the tRNAGly sequence, followed by mutation of its anticodon by single C to U transition mutations, possibly through spontaneous deamination. Interestingly, however, tRNASer has a different structure than most other tRNAs, possessing a long variable arm; because of this tRNASer is classified as a class II tRNA. Also, serine codons are found not only in the bottom right-hand corner of the genetic code table next to those for glycine and aspartic acid, but also in the top row of the table, next to those for two of the most hydrophobic amino acids, leucine and phenylalanine. In the following, I propose that the class II tRNA structure of tRNASer and the arrangement of serine codons in the genetic code provide clues to the early evolution of tRNA and the genetic code. In addition, I address Di Giulio’s recent criticism of our proposal that tRNAGly was the first tRNA, and discuss how early peptides produced from a restricted amino acid alphabet of glycine, serine and aspartic acid might have possessed proteolytic activity, which is possibly important for the early recycling of amino acid monomers. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Evolution of tRNA)
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Open AccessReview
Silent Polymorphisms: Can the tRNA Population Explain Changes in Protein Properties?
Life 2016, 6(1), 9; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010009 - 17 Feb 2016
Cited by 14 | Viewed by 2824
Abstract
Silent mutations are being intensively studied. We previously showed that the estrogen receptor alpha Ala87’s synonymous polymorphism affects its functional properties. Whereas a link has been clearly established between the effect of silent mutations, tRNA abundance and protein folding in prokaryotes, this connection [...] Read more.
Silent mutations are being intensively studied. We previously showed that the estrogen receptor alpha Ala87’s synonymous polymorphism affects its functional properties. Whereas a link has been clearly established between the effect of silent mutations, tRNA abundance and protein folding in prokaryotes, this connection remains controversial in eukaryotic systems. Although a synonymous polymorphism can affect mRNA structure or the interaction with specific ligands, it seems that the relative frequencies of isoacceptor tRNAs could play a key role in the protein-folding process, possibly through modulation of translation kinetics. Conformational changes could be subtle but enough to cause alterations in solubility, proteolysis profiles, functional parameters or intracellular targeting. Interestingly, recent advances describe dramatic changes in the tRNA population associated with proliferation, differentiation or response to chemical, physical or biological stress. In addition, several reports reveal changes in tRNAs’ posttranscriptional modifications in different physiological or pathological conditions. In consequence, since changes in the cell state imply quantitative and/or qualitative changes in the tRNA pool, they could increase the likelihood of protein conformational variants, related to a particular codon usage during translation, with consequences of diverse significance. These observations emphasize the importance of genetic code flexibility in the co-translational protein-folding process. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Evolution of tRNA)
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Open AccessConcept Paper
Titan as the Abode of Life
Life 2016, 6(1), 8; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010008 - 03 Feb 2016
Cited by 19 | Viewed by 5934
Abstract
Titan is the only world we know, other than Earth, that has a liquid on its surface. It also has a thick atmosphere composed of nitrogen and methane with a thick organic haze. There are lakes, rain, and clouds of methane and ethane. [...] Read more.
Titan is the only world we know, other than Earth, that has a liquid on its surface. It also has a thick atmosphere composed of nitrogen and methane with a thick organic haze. There are lakes, rain, and clouds of methane and ethane. Here, we address the question of carbon-based life living in Titan liquids. Photochemically produced organics, particularly acetylene, in Titan’s atmosphere could be a source of biological energy when reacted with atmospheric hydrogen. Light levels on the surface of Titan are more than adequate for photosynthesis, but the biochemical limitations due to the few elements available in the environment may lead only to simple ecosystems that only consume atmospheric nutrients. Life on Titan may make use of the trace metals and other inorganic elements produced by meteorites as they ablate in its atmosphere. It is conceivable that H2O molecules on Titan could be used in a biochemistry that is rooted in hydrogen bonds in a way that metals are used in enzymes by life on Earth. Previous theoretical work has shown possible membrane structures, azotosomes, in Titan liquids, azotosomes, composed of small organic nitrogen compounds, such as acrylonitrile. The search for a plausible information molecule for life in Titan liquids remains an open research topic—polyethers have been considered and shown to be insoluble at Titan temperatures. Possible search strategies for life on Titan include looking for unusual concentrations of certain molecules reflecting biological selection. Homochirality is a special and powerful example of such biology selection. Environmentally, a depletion of hydrogen in the lower atmosphere may be a sign of metabolism. A discovery of life in liquid methane and ethane would be our first compelling indication that the universe is full of diverse and wondrous life forms. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Physico-Chemical Limits of Life)
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Open AccessArticle
Regulation of Expression and Evolution of Genes in Plastids of Rhodophytic Branch
Life 2016, 6(1), 7; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010007 - 29 Jan 2016
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2495
Abstract
A novel algorithm and original software were used to cluster all proteins encoded in plastids of 72 species of the rhodophytic branch. The results are publicly available at http://lab6.iitp.ru/ppc/redline72/ in a database that allows fast identification of clusters (protein families) both by a [...] Read more.
A novel algorithm and original software were used to cluster all proteins encoded in plastids of 72 species of the rhodophytic branch. The results are publicly available at http://lab6.iitp.ru/ppc/redline72/ in a database that allows fast identification of clusters (protein families) both by a fragment of an amino acid sequence and by a phylogenetic profile of a protein. No such integral clustering with the corresponding functions can be found in the public domain. The putative regulons of the transcription factors Ycf28 and Ycf29 encoded in the plastids were identified using the clustering and the database. A regulation of translation initiation was proposed for the ycf24 gene in plastids of certain red algae and apicomplexans as well as a regulation of a putative gene in apicoplasts of Babesia spp. and Theileria parva. The conserved regulation of the ycf24 gene expression and specificity alternation of the transcription factor Ycf28 were shown in the plastids. A phylogenetic tree of plastids was generated for the rhodophytic branch. The hypothesis of the origin of apicoplasts from the common ancestor of all apicomplexans from plastids of red algae was confirmed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Structure and Evolution of Genome)
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Open AccessReview
Evolutionary Steps in the Emergence of Life Deduced from the Bottom-Up Approach and GADV Hypothesis (Top-Down Approach)
Life 2016, 6(1), 6; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010006 - 26 Jan 2016
Cited by 12 | Viewed by 9377
Abstract
It is no doubt quite difficult to solve the riddle of the origin of life. So, firstly, I would like to point out the kinds of obstacles there are in solving this riddle and how we should tackle these difficult problems, reviewing the [...] Read more.
It is no doubt quite difficult to solve the riddle of the origin of life. So, firstly, I would like to point out the kinds of obstacles there are in solving this riddle and how we should tackle these difficult problems, reviewing the studies that have been conducted so far. After that, I will propose that the consecutive evolutionary steps in a timeline can be rationally deduced by using a common event as a juncture, which is obtained by two counter-directional approaches: one is the bottom-up approach through which many researchers have studied the origin of life, and the other is the top-down approach, through which I established the [GADV]-protein world hypothesis or GADV hypothesis on the origin of life starting from a study on the formation of entirely new genes in extant microorganisms. Last, I will describe the probable evolutionary process from the formation of Earth to the emergence of life, which was deduced by using a common event—the establishment of the first genetic code encoding [GADV]-amino acids—as a juncture for the results obtained from the two approaches. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Emergence of Life: From Chemical Origins to Synthetic Biology)
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Open AccessEditorial
Acknowledgement to Reviewers of Life in 2015
Life 2016, 6(1), 5; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010005 - 21 Jan 2016
Viewed by 1768
Abstract
The editors of Life would like to express their sincere gratitude to the following reviewers for assessing manuscripts in 2015. Full article
Open AccessReview
Exploiting tRNAs to Boost Virulence
Life 2016, 6(1), 4; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010004 - 19 Jan 2016
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 2728
Abstract
Transfer RNAs (tRNAs) are powerful small RNA entities that are used to translate nucleotide language of genes into the amino acid language of proteins. Their near-uniform length and tertiary structure as well as their high nucleotide similarity and post-transcriptional modifications have made it [...] Read more.
Transfer RNAs (tRNAs) are powerful small RNA entities that are used to translate nucleotide language of genes into the amino acid language of proteins. Their near-uniform length and tertiary structure as well as their high nucleotide similarity and post-transcriptional modifications have made it difficult to characterize individual species quantitatively. However, due to the central role of the tRNA pool in protein biosynthesis as well as newly emerging roles played by tRNAs, their quantitative assessment yields important information, particularly relevant for virus research. Viruses which depend on the host protein expression machinery have evolved various strategies to optimize tRNA usage—either by adapting to the host codon usage or encoding their own tRNAs. Additionally, several viruses bear tRNA-like elements (TLE) in the 5′- and 3′-UTR of their mRNAs. There are different hypotheses concerning the manner in which such structures boost viral protein expression. Furthermore, retroviruses use special tRNAs for packaging and initiating reverse transcription of their genetic material. Since there is a strong specificity of different viruses towards certain tRNAs, different strategies for recruitment are employed. Interestingly, modifications on tRNAs strongly impact their functionality in viruses. Here, we review those intersection points between virus and tRNA research and describe methods for assessing the tRNA pool in terms of concentration, aminoacylation and modification. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Evolution of tRNA)
Open AccessFeature PaperReview
The tRNA Elbow in Structure, Recognition and Evolution
Life 2016, 6(1), 3; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010003 - 12 Jan 2016
Cited by 33 | Viewed by 3400
Abstract
Prominent in the L-shaped three-dimensional structure of tRNAs is the “elbow” where their two orthogonal helical stacks meet. It has a conserved structure arising from the interaction of the terminal loops of the D- and T-stem-loops, and presents to solution a flat face [...] Read more.
Prominent in the L-shaped three-dimensional structure of tRNAs is the “elbow” where their two orthogonal helical stacks meet. It has a conserved structure arising from the interaction of the terminal loops of the D- and T-stem-loops, and presents to solution a flat face of a tertiary base pair between the D- and T-loops. In addition to the ribosome, which interacts with the elbow in all three of its tRNA binding sites, several cellular RNAs and many proteins are known to recognize the elbow. At least three classes of non-coding RNAs, namely 23S rRNA, ribonuclease P, and the T-box riboswitches, recognize the tRNA elbow employing an identical structural motif consisting of two interdigitated T-loops. In contrast, structural solutions to tRNA-elbow recognition by proteins are varied. Some enzymes responsible for post-transcriptional tRNA modification even disrupt the elbow structure in order to access their substrate nucleotides. The evolutionary origin of the elbow is mysterious, but, because it does not explicitly participate in the flow of genetic information, it has been proposed to be a late innovation. Regardless, it is biologically essential. Even some viruses that hijack the cellular machinery using tRNA decoys have convergently evolved near-perfect mimics of the tRNA elbow. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Evolution of tRNA)
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Open AccessReview
Perspectives and Insights into the Competition for Aminoacyl-tRNAs between the Translational Machinery and for tRNA Dependent Non-Ribosomal Peptide Bond Formation
Life 2016, 6(1), 2; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010002 - 31 Dec 2015
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2395
Abstract
Aminoacyl-tRNA protein transferases catalyze the transfer of amino acids from aminoacyl-tRNAs to polypeptide substrates. Different forms of these enzymes are found in the different kingdoms of life and have been identified to be central to a wide variety of cellular processes. L/F-transferase is [...] Read more.
Aminoacyl-tRNA protein transferases catalyze the transfer of amino acids from aminoacyl-tRNAs to polypeptide substrates. Different forms of these enzymes are found in the different kingdoms of life and have been identified to be central to a wide variety of cellular processes. L/F-transferase is the sole member of this class of enzyme found in Escherichia coli and catalyzes the transfer of leucine to the N-termini of proteins which result in the targeted degradation of the modified protein. Recent investigations on the tRNA specificity of L/F-transferase have revealed the unique recognition nucleotides for a preferred Leu-tRNALeu isoacceptor substrate. In addition to discussing this tRNA selectivity by L/F-transferase, we present and discuss a hypothesis and its implications regarding the apparent competition for this aminoacyl-tRNA between L/F-transferase and the translational machinery. Our discussion reveals a hypothetical involvement of the bacterial stringent response that occurs upon amino acid limitation as a potential cellular event that may reduce this competition and provide the opportunity for L/F-transferase to readily increase its access to the pool of aminoacylated tRNA substrates. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Evolution of tRNA)
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Open AccessReview
Landmarks in the Evolution of (t)-RNAs from the Origin of Life up to Their Present Role in Human Cognition
Life 2016, 6(1), 1; https://doi.org/10.3390/life6010001 - 23 Dec 2015
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 3763
Abstract
How could modern life have evolved? The answer to that question still remains unclear. However, evidence is growing that, since the origin of life, RNA could have played an important role throughout evolution, right up to the development of complex organisms and even [...] Read more.
How could modern life have evolved? The answer to that question still remains unclear. However, evidence is growing that, since the origin of life, RNA could have played an important role throughout evolution, right up to the development of complex organisms and even highly sophisticated features such as human cognition. RNA mediated RNA-aminoacylation can be seen as a first landmark on the path from the RNA world to modern DNA- and protein-based life. Likewise, the generation of the RNA modifications that can be found in various RNA species today may already have started in the RNA world, where such modifications most likely entailed functional advantages. This association of modification patterns with functional features was apparently maintained throughout the further course of evolution, and particularly tRNAs can now be seen as paradigms for the developing interdependence between structure, modification and function. It is in this spirit that this review highlights important stepping stones of the development of (t)RNAs and their modifications (including aminoacylation) from the ancient RNA world up until their present role in the development and maintenance of human cognition. The latter can be seen as a high point of evolution at its present stage, and the susceptibility of cognitive features to even small alterations in the proper structure and functioning of tRNAs underscores the evolutionary relevance of this RNA species. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Evolution of tRNA)
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