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The Alanine World Model for the Development of the Amino Acid Repertoire in Protein Biosynthesis

Kubyshkin, Vladimir; Budisa, Nediljko

FG Biokatalyse

A central question in the evolution of the modern translation machinery is the origin and chemical ethology of the amino acids prescribed by the genetic code. The RNA World hypothesis postulates that templated protein synthesis has emerged in the transition from RNA to the Protein World. The sequence of these events and principles behind the acquisition of amino acids to this process remain elusive. Here we describe a model for this process by following the scheme previously proposed by Hartman and Smith, which suggests gradual expansion of the coding space as GC–GCA–GCAU genetic code. We point out a correlation of this scheme with the hierarchy of the protein folding. The model follows the sequence of steps in the process of the amino acid recruitment and fits well with the co-evolution and coenzyme handle theories. While the starting set (GC-phase) was responsible for the nucleotide biosynthesis processes, in the second phase alanine-based amino acids (GCA-phase) were recruited from the core metabolism, thereby providing a standard secondary structure, the α-helix. In the final phase (GCAU-phase), the amino acids were appended to the already existing architecture, enabling tertiary fold and membrane interactions. The whole scheme indicates strongly that the choice for the alanine core was done at the GCA-phase, while glycine and proline remained rudiments from the GC-phase. We suggest that the Protein World should rather be considered the Alanine World, as it predominantly relies on the alanine as the core chemical scaffold.