Explaining the origins of the genetic code without vertical descent

Here is the result of my two-month stay at the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, which was made possible by ELSI’s Origins Network. I quite like the implication that life could have been an inherently social phenomenon from its very origins!

Horizontal transfer of code fragments between protocells can explain the origins of the genetic code without vertical descent

Tom Froese, Jorge I. Campos, Kosuke Fujishima, Daisuke Kiga, and Nathaniel Virgo

Theories of the origin of the genetic code typically appeal to natural selection and/or mutation of hereditable traits to explain its regularities and error robustness, yet the present translation system presupposes high-fidelity replication. Woese’s solution to this bootstrapping problem was to assume that code optimization had played a key role in reducing the effect of errors caused by the early translation system. He further conjectured that initially evolution was dominated by horizontal exchange of cellular components among loosely organized protocells (“progenotes”), rather than by vertical transmission of genes. Here we simulated such communal evolution based on horizontal transfer of code fragments, possibly involving pairs of tRNAs and their cognate aminoacyl tRNA synthetases or a precursor tRNA ribozyme capable of catalysing its own aminoacylation, by using an iterated learning model. This is the first model to confirm Woese’s conjecture that regularity, optimality, and (near) universality could have emerged via horizontal interactions alone.


The 2nd Week on Complexity Sciences at C3-UNAM

The 2nd Week on Complexity Sciences will be held at the Center for Complexity Sciences (C3) at UNAM’s main campus from Jan. 31 to Feb 2. There will be many international invited speakers.

I will give a talk on the recent work I did with Prof. Alejandro Frank on the origins of the genetic code on Jan. 31 at 13:00. The title of our contribution is “A new approach to the origin of the genetic code”.

Collective origins of the genetic code

Later today I am giving the weekly colloquium at the Center for Complexity Sciences (C3) at our main campus of UNAM. The topic will be our ongoing work on a simulation model of the collective origins of the genetic code. Details of the colloquium below:

Cartel_Coloquio C3_07-1

EON Long-Term-Visitor Award

logoI have received an EON Long-Term-Visitor Award from the director of the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) of the Tokyo Institute of Technology to work for two months (June and July 2017) with Dr. Virgo and his colleagues of the ELSI Origins Network (EON).

The aim is to create an agent-based model of the origins of the genetic code based on the mechanism of horizontal gene transmission. The model is inspired by the iterated learning model of the evolution of language.

New research project grant received

I am happy to report that my application for the 2017 call for research projects issued by UNAM’s “Programa de Apoyo a Proyectos de Investigación e Innovación Tecnológica” (PAPIIT) was successful.

The project is entitled “Explorando los alcances de la auto-organización social: desde la cultura hasta la célula” (IA104717). Its overarching aim is to support the activities of the 4E Cognition Group.