, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 325-329

Evolution from primordial oligomeric repeats to modern coding sequences

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It seems as though nature was most innovative at the very beginning of life on this Earth a few billion years ago. For example, the functional competence of most, if not all, of the sugar-metabolizing enzymes was clearly established before the division of eukaryotes from prokaryotes eons ago, each critical active-site amino acid sequence being conserved ever since by bacteria as well as by mammals. I contend that this initial innovativeness was due to the first set of coding sequences being repeats of base oligomers, thus encoding polypeptide chains of various periodicities; such periodical polypeptide chains can easily acquire α-helical and β-sheet-forming segments. In fact, the entire length of sugarmetabolizing enzymes is comprised of alternating α-helical and β-sheet-forming segments.

In the prebiotic (therefore nonenzymatic) replication of nucleic acids, what was in short supply was long templates, for there apparently was no inherent obstacle in copying of long templates, if such existed, in the presence of Zn2+. I submit that in this prebiotic condition, only those nucleotide oligomers that were internal doubles were automatically assured of progressive elongation to become long templates. For example, a decamer that was a pentameric repeat and its complementary sequence may pair unequally to initiate the next round of replication: first unit pairing with second, and a paired segment serving as a primer. As a consequence of this unequal pairing, decameric templates managed to become pentadecameric templates only after one round of replication, and this elongation process had no inherent limit.

Presented at the FEBS Symposium on Genome organization and Evolution, held in Crete, Greece, September 1–5, 1986