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On the Function of Modified Nucleosides in the RNA World

Journal of Theoretical Biology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1006/jtbi.1998.0770
  • Biology


Abstract Presumably ribosome and transfer RNA (tRNA) evolved from a pre-existing function in the RNA stage of life and were secondarily adapted for protein synthesis. Various possible initial functions of the primitive ribosome (protoribosome) have been suggested. The initial function of the primitive ribosome and primitive genetic translation would have been quite similar. It is possible that, initially, both functions coexisted in the protoribosome. Given that the three-dimensional structure of ribosomal RNAs shows only minor variations throughout time, it is, then, most likely that present ribosomes can still recall (remember) the most important parts of the mechanism of their initial function. A process would have arisen to inactivate the initial function of the protoribosome without affecting genetic translation: the modification of some ribosome nucleosides. We suggest that the modifications of some rRNA nucleosides located in the catalytic center responsible for the initial function of primitive ribosomes, and of some of the tRNA nucleosides which interacted with the same center could have resulted in the inability of their recognition and secondary interaction. Thus, it is a known fact that the establishing of hydrogen bonds between modified nucleosides is rare and unstable. Therefore, the initial biological function of primitive ribosomes could have been inactivated without significantly affecting its three-dimensional structure. Therefore, without affecting the primitive translation. After the emergence of translation, some catalytic proteins (enzymes) which could modify the nucleosides of ribozymes could have arisen. In brief, we suggest that the catalytic proteins, through nucleoside modification, inactivated the catalytic RNA activity but RNA capacity to recognize and to bind other RNAs was not essentially altered. Only a few ribozymes were slightly affected by the modifications and they still maintain catalytic and binding activities. Therefore, we suggest that the proteins, through modification process, could have diminished the diverse functional capacities of the first RNA molecules. Auto-organization of the organic matter could be based on this type of interaction between macromolecules (protein and RNA).

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