BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Investigations into the origins of life and the genetic code have resulted in a method of developing novel proteins that has enormous potential for the biotechnology industry while providing some important clues to answering the question: "How did life begin?"
The research provides significant evidence for the existence of the so-called RNA world, believed to be the evolutionary stage that predates present biological systems.
It was published today (April 2, 2001) by scientists at the University at Buffalo and the University of Tokyo in EMBO Journal (Vol. 20, no. 7), publication of the European Molecular Biology Organization.
In evolving new sequences of an RNA catalyst, the authors also have developed an efficient method of creating novel proteins built out of not just the 20 amino acids found in nature, but out of additional, so-called non-natural amino acids designed in the lab.
The research demonstrates for the first time that a precursor to transfer RNA -- the genetic material that is responsible for synthesizing proteins -- could have acted as the catalyst for reactions that link transfer RNA (tRNA) to amino acids in a pre-biological era.
Aminoacylation, as that reaction is called, is the key step that spurs translation, or protein synthesis in cells, but scientists probing how genes first came to generate life as we know it have been puzzled about how that crucial step came to be taken, without a catalyst to trigger it.
"Using an in vitro version of Darwinian natural evolution, we have evolved this RNA catalyst, which provides evidence for support that RNA may well have served as the evolutionary vehicle necessary for the development of present-day, DNA-protein-based life forms," said Hiroaki Suga, Ph.D., lead author and assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University at Buffalo.