Origins and evolution of modern biochemistry: Insights from genomes and molecular structure

Gustavo Caetano-Anolles, Feng Jie Sun, Minglei Wang, Liudmila S. Yafremava, Ajith Harish, Hee Shin Kim, Vegeir Knudsen, Derek Caetano-Anolles, Jay E. Mittenthal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The survey of components in living systems at different levels of organization enables an evolutionary exploration of patterns and processes in macromolecules, networks, and genomic repertoires. Here we discuss how phylogenetic strategies that generate intrinsically rooted phylogenies impact the evolutionary study of RNA and protein components of the macromolecular machinery that is responsible for biological function. We used these methods to generate timelines of discovery of components in systems, such as substructures in RNA molecules, architectures in proteomes, domains in multi-domain proteins, enzymes in metabolic networks, and protein architectures in proteomes. These timelines unfolded remarkable patterns of origin and evolution of molecules, repertoires and networks, showing episodes of both functional specialization (e.g., rise of domains with specialized functions) and molecular simplification (e.g., reductive tendencies in molecules and proteomes). These observations have important evolutionary implications for origins of translation, the genetic code, modules in the protein world, and diversification of life, and suggest early evolution of modern biochemistry was driven by recruitment of both RNA and protein catalysts in an ancient community of complex organisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5212-5240
Number of pages29
JournalFrontiers in Bioscience
Issue number14
StatePublished - May 1 2008


  • Archaea
  • Evolution
  • Metabolism
  • Proteins
  • Proteome
  • RNA
  • Review
  • Structure
  • rRNA
  • tRNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)

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