Piecemeal Buildup of the Genetic Code, Ribosomes, and Genomes from Primordial tRNA Building Blocks

Derek Caetano-Anollés, Gustavo Caetano-Anollés

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The origin of biomolecular machinery likely centered around an ancient and central molecule capable of interacting with emergent macromolecular complexity. tRNA is the oldest and most central nucleic acid molecule of the cell. Its co-evolutionary interactions with aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase protein enzymes define the specificities of the genetic code and those with the ribosome their accurate biosynthetic interpretation. Phylogenetic approaches that focus on molecular structure allow reconstruction of evolutionary timelines that describe the history of RNA and protein structural domains. Here we review phylogenomic analyses that reconstruct the early history of the synthetase enzymes and the ribosome, their interactions with RNA, and the inception of amino acid charging and codon specificities in tRNA that are responsible for the genetic code. We also trace the age of domains and tRNA onto ancient tRNA homologies that were recently identified in rRNA. Our findings reveal a timeline of recruitment of tRNA building blocks for the formation of a functional ribosome, which holds both the biocatalytic functions of protein biosynthesis and the ability to store genetic memory in primordial RNA genomic templates.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages24
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2016


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