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REVIEW: The Origin of Genetic Code and Translation in the Framework of Current Concepts on the Origin of Life

Liya G. Kondratyeva1, Marina S. Dyachkova2, and Alexey V. Galchenko3,a*

1Shemyakin–Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, 117997 Moscow, Russia

2Vavilov Institute of General Genetics, 119991 Moscow, Russia

3Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University), 117198 Moscow, Russia

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.

Received May 26, 2021; Revised November 10, 2021; Accepted December 8, 2021
The origin of genetic code and translation system is probably the central and most difficult problem in the investigations on the origin of life and one of the most complex problems in the evolutionary biology in general. There are multiple hypotheses on the emergence and development of existing genetic systems that propose the mechanisms for the origin and early evolution of genetic code, as well as for the emergence of replication and translation. Here, we discuss the most well-known of these hypotheses, although none of them provides a description of the early evolution of genetic systems without gaps and assumptions. The RNA world hypothesis is a currently prevailing scientific idea on the early evolution of biological and pre-biological structures, the main advantage of which is the assumption that RNAs as the first living systems were self-sufficient, i.e., capable of functioning as both catalysts and templates. However, this hypothesis has also significant limitations. In particular, no ribozymes with processive polymerase activity have been yet discovered or synthesized. Taking into account the mutual need of proteins and nucleic acids in each other in the current world, many authors propose the early evolution scenarios based on the co-evolution of these two classes of organic molecules. They postulate that the emergence of translation was necessary for the replication of nucleic acids, in contrast to the RNA world hypothesis, according to which the emergence of translation was preceded by the era of self-replicating RNAs. Although such scenarios are less parsimonious from the evolutionary point of view, since they require simultaneous emergence and evolution of two classes of organic molecules, as well as the emergence of synchronized replication and translation, their major advantage is that they explain the development of processive and much more accurate protein-dependent replication.
KEY WORDS: evolution, origin of life, translation, genetic code, RNA world, progene, protein world, lipid world

DOI: 10.1134/S0006297922020079