Extant organisms commonly use 20 amino acids in protein synthesis. In the translation system, aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase (ARS) selectively binds an amino acid and transfers it to the cognate tRNA. It is postulated that the amino acid repertoire of ARS expanded during the development of the translation system. In this study we generated composite phylogenetic trees for seven ARSs (SerRS, ProRS, ThrRS, GlyRS-1, HisRS, AspRS, and LysRS) which are thought to have diverged by gene duplication followed by mutation, before the evolution of the last universal common ancestor. The composite phylogenetic tree shows that the AspRS/LysRS branch diverged from the other five ARSs at the deepest node, with the GlyRS/HisRS branch and the other three ARSs (ThrRS, ProRS and SerRS) diverging at the second deepest node. ThrRS diverged next, and finally ProRS and SerRS diverged from each other. Based on the phylogenetic tree, sequences of the ancestral ARSs prior to the evolution of the last universal common ancestor were predicted. The amino acid specificity of each ancestral ARS was then postulated by comparison with amino acid recognition sites of ARSs of extant organisms. Our predictions demonstrate that ancestral ARSs had substantial specificity and that the number of amino acid types amino-acylated by proteinaceous ARSs was limited before the appearance of a fuller range of proteinaceous ARS species. From an assumption that 10 amino acid species are required for folding and function, proteinaceous ARS possibly evolved in a translation system composed of preexisting ribozyme ARSs, before the evolution of the last universal common ancestor.
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