Mixed anhydrides at the intersection between peptide and RNA autocatalytic sets: evolution of biological coding.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Interface Focus


washington; seattle; isb


We present a scenario for the origin of biological coding, a semiotic relationship between chemical information stored in one location that links to chemical information stored in a separate location. Coding originated from cooperation between two, originally separate, collectively autocatalytic sets (CASs), one for nucleic acids and one for peptides. Upon interaction, a series of RNA folding-directed processes led to their joint cooperativity. The aminoacyl adenylate was the first covalent association made by these two CASs and solidified their interdependence, and is a palimpsest of this era, a relic of the original semiotic relationship between RNA and proteins. Coding was driven by selection pressure to eliminate waste in CASs. Eventually a 1 : 1 relationship between single amino acids and short RNA pieces was established, i.e. the 'genetic code'. The two classes of aaRS enzymes are remnants of the complementary information in two RNA strands, as postulated by Rodin and Ohno. Every stage in the evolution of coding was driven by the downward selection on the components of a system to satisfy the Kantian whole. Coding was engendered because there were two chemically distinct classes of polymers needed for open-ended evolution; systems with only one polymer cannot exhibit this characteristic. Coding is thus synonymous with life as we know it.


Institute for Systems Biology