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J Theor Biol. 2006 Mar 7;239(1):63-70. Epub 2005 Dec 1.

The standard genetic code enhances adaptive evolution of proteins.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD 21250, USA.


The standard genetic code, by which most organisms translate genetic material into protein metabolism, is non-randomly organized. The Error Minimization hypothesis interprets this non-randomness as an adaptation, proposing that natural selection produced a pattern of codon assignments that buffers genomes against the impact of mutations. Indeed, on the average any given point mutation has a lesser effect on the chemical properties of the utilized amino acid than expected by chance. Might it also, however, be the case that the non-random nature of the code effects the rate of adaptive evolution? To investigate this, here we develop population genetic simulations to test the rate of adaptive gene evolution under different genetic codes. We identify two independent properties of a genetic code that profoundly influence the speed of adaptive evolution. Noting that the standard genetic code exhibits both, we offer a new insight into the effects of the "error minimizing" code: such a code enhances the efficacy of adaptive sequence evolution.

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