Journal of Theoretical Biology
Volume 382, 7 October 2015, Pages 292–297
Origin of life. Primordial genetics: Information transfer in a pre-RNA world based on self-replicating beta-sheet amyloid conformers
Carl Peter J. Maury,
Department of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Received 24 April 2015, Revised 8 July 2015, Accepted 10 July 2015, Available online 18 July 2015
Under a Creative Commons license
• A primordial preRNA information system based on amyloid entities is presented.
• It is characterized by templated conformational self-replication.
• The encoding element is the steric zipper structure of the beta-sheet amyloid fold.
• The information system is stable, environmentally responsive, and evolvable.
• The amyloids are proposed to represent the first indefinite informational replicators.
The question of the origin of life on Earth can largely be reduced to the question of what was the first molecular replicator system that was able to replicate and evolve under the presumably very harsh conditions on the early Earth. It is unlikely that a functional RNA could have existed under such conditions and it is generally assumed that some other kind of information system preceded the RNA world. Here, I present an informational molecular system that is stable, self-replicative, environmentally responsive, and evolvable under conditions characterized by high temperatures, ultraviolet and cosmic radiation. This postulated pregenetic system is based on the amyloid fold, a functionally unique polypeptide fold characterized by a cross beta-sheet structure in which the beta strands are arranged perpendicular to the fiber axis. Beside an extraordinary structural robustness, the amyloid fold possesses a unique ability to transmit information by a three-dimensional templating mechanism. In amyloidogenesis short peptide monomers are added one by one to the growing end of the fiber. From the same monomeric subunits several structural variants of amyloid may be formed. Then, in a self-replicative mode, a specific amyloid conformer can act as a template and confer its spatially encoded information to daughter molecular entities in a repetitive way. In this process, the specific conformational information, the spatially changed organization, is transmitted; the coding element is the steric zipper structure, and recognition occurs by amino acid side chain complementarity. The amyloid information system fulfills several basic requirements of a primordial evolvable replicator system: (i) it is stable under the presumed primitive Earth conditions, (ii) the monomeric building blocks of the informational polymer can be formed from available prebiotic compounds, (iii) the system is self-assembling and self-replicative and (iv) it is adaptive to changes in the environment and evolvable.
Key words Replicator; Molecular evolution; Amyloid world; RNA; Origin of life theory
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