Ribozyme Mutagenic Evolution: Mechanisms of Survival

Orig Life Evol Biosph. 2021 Dec;51(4):321-339. doi: 10.1007/s11084-021-09617-0. Epub 2022 Jan 7.


Primeval populations replicating at high error rates required a mechanism to overcome the accumulation of mutations and information deterioration. Known strategies to overcome mutation pressures include RNA processivity, epistasis, selection, and quasispecies. We investigated the mechanism by which small molecular ribozyme populations can survive under high error rates by propagating several lineages under different mutagen concentrations. We found that every population that evolved without mutagen went extinct, while those subjected to mutagenic evolution survived. To understand how they survived, we characterized the evolved genotypic diversity, the formation of genotype-genotype interaction networks, the fitness of the most common mutants for each enzymatic step, and changes in population size along the course of evolution. We found that the elevated mutation rate was necessary for the populations to survive in the novel environment, in which all the steps of the metabolism worked to promote the survival of even less catalytically efficient ligases. Besides, an increase in population size and the mutational coupling of genotypes in close-knit networks, which helped maintain or recover lost genotypes making their disappearance transient, prevented Muller's ratchet and extinction.

Keywords: Extinction; Genotypic diversity; Mutagenic evolution; Quasispecies; Ribozyme.

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutagens
  • Mutation
  • RNA, Catalytic* / genetics
  • Selection, Genetic


  • Mutagens
  • RNA, Catalytic