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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1994 Jul 19;91(15):6729-34.

Phylogeny from function: evidence from the molecular fossil record that tRNA originated in replication, not translation.

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Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510-8024.


We propose a phylogeny for the evolution of tRNA that is based on the ubiquity and conservation of tRNA-like structures in the replication of contemporary genomes. This phylogeny is unique in suggesting that the function of tRNA in replication dates back to the very beginnings of life on earth, before the advent of templated protein synthesis. The origin we propose for tRNA has distinct implications for the order in which other components of the modern translational apparatus evolved. We further suggest that the "top half" of modern tRNA-a coaxial stack of the acceptor stem on the T psi C arm--is the ancient structural and functional domain and that the "bottom half" of tRNA--a coaxial stack of the dihydrouracil arm on the anticodon arm--arose later to provide additional specificity.

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