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Mol Biol Evol. 2010 Aug;27(8):1792-801. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msq057. Epub 2010 Mar 1.

Rooting the ribosomal tree of life.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Connecticut, CT, USA.


The origin of the genetic code and the rooting of the tree of life (ToL) are two of the most challenging problems in the study of life's early evolution. Although both have been the focus of numerous investigations utilizing a variety of methods, until now, each problem has been addressed independently. Typically, attempts to root the ToL have relied on phylogenies of genes with ancient duplications, which are subject to artifacts of tree reconstruction and horizontal gene transfer, or specific physiological characters believed to be primitive, which are often based on subjective criteria. Here, we demonstrate a unique method for rooting based on the identification of amino acid usage biases comprising the residual signature of a more primitive genetic code. Using a phylogenetic tree of concatenated ribosomal proteins, our analysis of amino acid compositional bias detects a strong and unique signal associated with the early expansion of the genetic code, placing the root of the translation machinery along the bacterial branch.

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