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Kun A.,Parmenides Center for the Conceptual Foundations of Science | Kun A.,MTA ELTE MTMT Ecology Research Group | Kun A.,Eotvos Lorand University | Szathmary E.,Parmenides Center for the Conceptual Foundations of Science | And 2 more authors.

The notion of fitness landscapes, a map between genotype and fitness, was proposed more than 80 years ago. For most of this time data was only available for a few alleles, and thus we had only a restricted view of the whole fitness landscape. Recently, advances in genetics and molecular biology allow a more detailed view of them. Here we review experimental and theoretical studies of fitness landscapes of functional RNAs, especially aptamers and ribozymes. We find that RNA structures can be divided into critical structures, connecting structures, neutral structures and forbidden structures. Such characterisation, coupled with theoretical sequence-to-structure predictions, allows us to construct the whole fitness landscape. Fitness landscapes then can be used to study evolution, and in our case the development of the RNA world. © 2015 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. Source

Kun A.,Parmenides Center for the Conceptual Foundations of Science | Kun A.,MTA ELTE MTMT Ecology Research Group | Szilagyi A.,Parmenides Center for the Conceptual Foundations of Science | Szilagyi A.,MTA ELTE Theoretical Biology and Evolutionary Ecology Research Group | And 6 more authors.
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

The RNA world hypothesis of the origin of life, in which RNA emerged as both enzyme and information carrier, is receiving solid experimental support. The prebiotic synthesis of biomolecules, the catalytic aid offered by mineral surfaces, and the vast enzymatic repertoire of ribozymes are only pieces of the origin of life puzzle; the full picture can only emerge if the pieces fit together by either following from one another or coexisting with each other. Here, we review the theory of the origin, maintenance, and enhancement of the RNA world as an evolving population of dynamical systems. The dynamical view of the origin of life allows us to pinpoint the missing and the not fitting pieces: (1) How can the first self-replicating ribozyme emerge in the absence of template-directed information replication? (2) How can nucleotide replicators avoid competitive exclusion despite utilizing the very same resources (nucleobases)? (3) How can the information catastrophe be avoided? (4) How can enough genes integrate into a cohesive system in order to transition to a cellular stage? (5) How can the way information is stored and metabolic complexity coevolve to pave to road leading out of the RNA world to the present protein-DNA world? © 2015 New York Academy of Sciences. Source

Boza G.,Eotvos Lorand University | Boza G.,MTA ELTE MTMT Ecology Research Group | Szilagyi A.,Eotvos Lorand University | Szilagyi A.,Parmenides Center for the Conceptual Foundations of Science | And 8 more authors.
PLoS Computational Biology

The RNA world is a very likely interim stage of the evolution after the first replicators and before the advent of the genetic code and translated proteins. Ribozymes are known to be able to catalyze many reaction types, including cofactor-aided metabolic transformations. In a metabolically complex RNA world, early division of labor between genes and enzymes could have evolved, where the ribozymes would have been transcribed from the genes more often than the other way round, benefiting the encapsulating cells through this dosage effect. Here we show, by computer simulations of protocells harboring unlinked RNA replicators, that the origin of replicational asymmetry producing more ribozymes from a gene template than gene strands from a ribozyme template is feasible and robust. Enzymatic activities of the two modeled ribozymes are in trade-off with their replication rates, and the relative replication rates compared to those of complementary strands are evolvable traits of the ribozymes. The degree of trade-off is shown to have the strongest effect in favor of the division of labor. Although some asymmetry between gene and enzymatic strands could have evolved even in earlier, surface-bound systems, the shown mechanism in protocells seems inevitable and under strong positive selection. This could have preadapted the genetic system for transcription after the subsequent origin of chromosomes and DNA. © 2014 Boza, et al. Source

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