George E. Fox
Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston, Houston, Texas 77204-5001
The modern ribosome was largely formed at the time of the last common ancestor, LUCA. Hence its earliest origins likely lie in the RNA world. Central to its development were RNAs that spawned the modern tRNAs and a symmetrical region deep within the large ribosomal RNA, (rRNA), where the peptidyl transferase reaction occurs. To understand pre-LUCA developments, it is argued that events that are coupled in time are especially useful if one can infer a likely order in which they occurred. Using such timing events, the relative age of various proteins and individual regions within the large rRNA are inferred. An examination of the properties of modern ribosomes strongly suggests that the initial peptides made by the primitive ribosomes were likely enriched for L-amino acids, but did not completely exclude D-amino acids. This has implications for the nature of peptides made by the first ribosomes. From the perspective of ribosome origins, the immediate question regarding coding is when did it arise rather than how did the assignments evolve. The modern ribosome is very dynamic with tRNAs moving in and out and the mRNA moving relative to the ribosome. These movements may have become possible as a result of the addition of a template to hold the tRNAs. That template would subsequently become the mRNA, thereby allowing the evolution of the code and making an RNA genome useful. Finally, a highly speculative timeline of major events in ribosome history is presented and possible future directions discussed.
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