Title Ancestral reconstruction of life's translational apparatus

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Genetics Evolution and Environment


The origin of life is one of the greatest unsolved problems in science, lying at the intersection of biology and geochemistry. A key part of this problem is understanding how life's informational systems came into being with the emergence of genetic coding. The translational apparatus, which works to translate genetic information stored in nucleotide polymers into polypeptides, is itself constructed with a complex blend of both polynucleotides and polypeptides. The translational apparatus' core functions and structures are nearly universally conserved across biology. This allows the molecular machinery involved (tRNA, aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases, and the ribosome) to be studied with a form of molecular palaeontology. By analysing modern structures using phylogenetic and structural methods, the ancestral forms of the translational machinery can be computationally modelled and reconstructed in the laboratory. Such reconstruction opens a window into the environment and behaviours of life in its geological cradle and can help to clarify the emergence of the genetic code itself.


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Harrison SA (2022) A biophysical basis for the emergence of the genetic code in protocells. in Biochimica et biophysica acta. Bioenergetics

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007229/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2027
2236041 Studentship NE/S007229/1 01/10/2019 30/01/2024 Aaron Halpern
NE/W502716/1 01/04/2021 31/03/2022
2236041 Studentship NE/W502716/1 01/10/2019 30/01/2024 Aaron Halpern