Energy mapping of the genetic code and genomic domains: Implications for code evolution and molecular Darwinism

Horst H. Klump, Jens Völker, Kenneth J. Breslauer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

When the iconic DNA genetic code is expressed in terms of energy differentials, one observes that information embedded in chemical sequences, including some biological outcomes, correlate with distinctive free energy profiles. Specifically, we find correlations between codon usage and codon free energy, suggestive of a thermodynamic selection for codon usage. We also find correlations between what are considered ancient amino acids and high codon free energy values. Such correlations may be reflective of the sequence-based genetic code fundamentally mapping as an energy code. In such a perspective, one can envision the genetic code as composed of interlocking thermodynamic cycles that allow codons to 'evolve' from each other through a series of sequential transitions and transversions, which are influenced by an energy landscape modulated by both thermodynamic and kinetic factors. As such, early evolution of the genetic code may have been driven, in part, by differential energetics, as opposed exclusively by the functionality of any gene product. In such a scenario, evolutionary pressures can, in part, derive from the optimization of biophysical properties (e.g. relative stabilities and relative rates), in addition to the classic perspective of being driven by a phenotypical adaptive advantage (natural selection). Such differential energy mapping of the genetic code, as well as larger genomic domains, may reflect an energetically resolved and evolved genomic landscape, consistent with a type of differential, energy-driven 'molecular Darwinism'. It should not be surprising that evolution of the code was influenced by differential energetics, as thermodynamics is the most general and universal branch of science that operates over all time and length scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere11
JournalQuarterly reviews of biophysics
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics

Keywords

  • Codon energy distribution spectrum
  • codon free energies
  • codon usage frequency
  • energy code
  • interlocking thermodynamic cycles
  • molecular evolution

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