Modern organisms commonly use the same set of 20 genetically coded amino acids for protein synthesis with very few exceptions. However, earlier protein synthesis was plausibly much simpler than modern one and utilized only a limited set of amino acids. Nevertheless, few experimental tests of this issue with arbitrarily chosen amino acid sets had been reported prior to this report. Herein we comprehensively and systematically reduced the size of the amino acid set constituting an ancestral nucleoside kinase that was reconstructed in our previous study. We eventually found that two convergent sequences, each comprised of a 13-amino acid alphabet, folded into soluble, stable and catalytically active structures, even though their stabilities and activities were not as high as those of the parent protein. Notably, many but not all of the reduced-set amino acids coincide with those plausibly abundant in primitive Earth. The inconsistent amino acids appeared to be important for catalytic activity but not for stability. Therefore, our findings suggest that the prebiotically abundant amino acids were used for creating stable protein structures and other amino acids with functional side chains were recruited to achieve efficient catalysis.
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