The Origin of Prebiotic Information System in the Peptide/RNA World: A Simulation Model of the Evolution of Translation and the Genetic Code

Life (Basel). 2019 Mar 1;9(1):25. doi: 10.3390/life9010025.


Information is the currency of life, but the origin of prebiotic information remains a mystery. We propose transitional pathways from the cosmic building blocks of life to the complex prebiotic organic chemistry that led to the origin of information systems. The prebiotic information system, specifically the genetic code, is segregated, linear, and digital, and it appeared before the emergence of DNA. In the peptide/RNA world, lipid membranes randomly encapsulated amino acids, RNA, and peptide molecules, which are drawn from the prebiotic soup, to initiate a molecular symbiosis inside the protocells. This endosymbiosis led to the hierarchical emergence of several requisite components of the translation machine: transfer RNAs (tRNAs), aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase (aaRS), messenger RNAs (mRNAs), ribosomes, and various enzymes. When assembled in the right order, the translation machine created proteins, a process that transferred information from mRNAs to assemble amino acids into polypeptide chains. This was the beginning of the prebiotic <i>information</i> age. The origin of the genetic code is enigmatic; herein, we propose an evolutionary explanation: the demand for a wide range of protein enzymes over peptides in the prebiotic reactions was the main selective pressure for the origin of information-directed protein synthesis. The molecular basis of the genetic code manifests itself in the interaction of aaRS and their cognate tRNAs. In the beginning, aminoacylated ribozymes used amino acids as a cofactor with the help of bridge peptides as a process for selection between amino acids and their cognate codons/anticodons. This process selects amino acids and RNA species for the next steps. The ribozymes would give rise to pre-tRNA and the bridge peptides to pre-aaRS. Later, variants would appear and evolution would produce different but specific aaRS-tRNA-amino acid combinations. Pre-tRNA designed and built pre-mRNA for the storage of information regarding its cognate amino acid. Each pre-mRNA strand became the storage device for the genetic information that encoded the amino acid sequences in triplet nucleotides. As information appeared in the digital languages of the codon within pre-mRNA and mRNA, and the genetic code for protein synthesis evolved, the prebiotic chemistry then became more organized and directional with the emergence of the translation and genetic code. The genetic code developed in three stages that are coincident with the refinement of the translation machines: the GNC code that was developed by the pre-tRNA/pre-aaRS /pre-mRNA machine, SNS code by the tRNA/aaRS/mRNA machine, and finally the universal genetic code by the tRNA/aaRS/mRNA/ribosome machine. We suggest the coevolution of translation machines and the genetic code. The emergence of the translation machines was the beginning of the Darwinian evolution, an interplay between information and its supporting structure. Our hypothesis provides the logical and incremental steps for the origin of the programmed protein synthesis. In order to better understand the prebiotic information system, we converted letter codons into numerical codons in the Universal Genetic Code Table. We have developed a software, called CATI (Codon-Amino Acid-Translator-Imitator), to translate randomly chosen numerical codons into corresponding amino acids and vice versa. This conversion has granted us insight into how the genetic code might have evolved in the peptide/RNA world. There is great potential in the application of numerical codons to bioinformatics, such as barcoding, DNA mining, or DNA fingerprinting. We constructed the likely biochemical pathways for the origin of translation and the genetic code using the Model-View-Controller (MVC) software framework, and the translation machinery step-by-step. While using AnyLogic software, we were able to simulate and visualize the entire evolution of the translation machines, amino acids, and the genetic code.

Keywords: AnyLogic software for computer simulation of translation machine; MVC architecture pattern and biological information; bridge peptide and aaRS; coevolution of translation machine and the genetic code; numerical codons; peptide/RNA world; prebiotic information system; ribozyme and tRNA; tRNA and mRNA; translation and the genetic code.