The Genomic Tag Model for the Origin of Protein Synthesis

Further Evidence from the Molecular Fossil Record


A central problem in envisioning the evolution of modern protein synthesis has been that none of the individual components—ribosomal RNAs and ribosomal proteins, initiation and elongation factors, tRNAs and tRNA synthetases—appears to be useful individually, yet the molecular apparatus for translation must have evolved stepwise. We have proposed that modern tRNAs derive from 3’ terminal tRNA-like structures that tagged genomes for replication in the RNA world [1]. In early genomes these tRNA-like structures would have provided an initiation site for the replicase and functioned as primitive telomeres. In contemporary genomes similar structures persist as the termini of many RNA viruses; as primers for retrovirus replication; as punctuation in the rRNA operons of eubacteria, chloroplasts, and mitochondria; as the termini of the genomic RNAs of two Neurospora mitochondrial retroplasmids; as modern DNA telomeres; and possibly as internal promoters for RNA polymerase III. These contemporary functions and structures of tRNA motifs reflect evolutionary history as well as the requirements of function, and may therefore be considered molecular fossils of ancient genomic tags.


Replication Strategy rRNA Operon Molecular Fossil Mitochondrial Plasmid tRNA Primer 
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© Springer-Verlag Tokyo 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Molecular Biophysics and BiochemistryYale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA

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