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Background: Theoretical minimal RNA rings code by design over the shortest length once for each of the 20 amino acids, a start and a stop codon, and form stem-loop hairpins. This defines at most 25 RNA rings of 22 nucleotides. As a group, RNA rings mimick numerous prebiotic and early life biomolecular properties: tRNAs, deamination gradients and replication origins, emergence of codon preferences for the natural circular code, and contents of early protein coding genes. These properties result from the RNA ring's in silico design, based mainly on coding nonredundancy among overlapping translation frames, as the genetic code's codon-amino acid assignments determine. RNA rings resemble ancestral tRNAs, defining RNA ring anticodons and corresponding cognate amino acids. Surprisingly, all examined RNA ring properties coevolve with genetic code integration ranks of RNA ring cognates, as if RNA rings mimick prebiotic and early life evolution. Methods: Distances between RNA rings were calculated using different evolutionary models. Associations between these distances and genetic code evolutionary hypotheses detect evolutionary models best describing RNA ring diversification. Results: Here pseudo-phylogenetic analyses of RNA rings produce clusters corresponding to the primordial code in tRNA acceptor stems, more so when substitution matrices from neutrally evolving pseudogenes are used rather than from functional protein coding genes reflecting selection for conserving amino acid properties. Conclusions: Results indicate RNA rings with recent cognates evolved from those with early cognates. Hence RNA rings, as designed by the genetic code's structure, simulate tRNA stem evolution and prebiotic history along neutral chemistry-driven mutation regimes.
Demongeot, J., & Seligmann, H. (2020). The primordial tRNA acceptor stem code from theoretical minimal RNA ring clusters. BMC Genetics, 21(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12863-020-0812-2