Tryptophanyl-tRNA synthetase urzyme: A model to recapitulate molecular evolution and investigate intramolecular complementation

Yen Pham, Brian Kuhlman, Glenn L. Butterfoss, Hao Hu, Violetta Weinreb, Charles W. Carter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We substantiate our preliminary description of the class I tryptophanyl-tRNA synthetase minimal catalytic domain with details of its construction, structure, and steady-state kinetic parameters. Generating that active fragment involved deleting 65% of the contemporary enzyme, including the anticodon-binding domain and connecting peptide 1, CP1, a 74-residue internal segment from within the Rossmann fold. We used protein design (Rosetta), rather than phylogenetic sequence alignments, to identify mutations to compensate for the severe loss of modularity, thus restoring stability, as evidenced by renaturation described previously and by 70-ns molecular dynamics simulations. Sufficient solubility to enable biochemical studies was achieved by expressing the redesigned Urzyme as a maltose-binding protein fusion. Michaelis-Menten kinetic parameters from amino acid activation assays showed that, compared with the native full-length enzyme, TrpRS Urzyme binds ATP with similar affinity. This suggests that neither of the two deleted structural modules has a strong influence on ground-state ATP binding. However, tryptophan has 103 lower affinity, and the Urzyme has comparably reduced specificity relative to the related amino acid, tyrosine. Molecular dynamics simulations revealed how CP1 may contribute significantly to cognate amino acid specificity. As class Ia editing domains are nested within the CP1, this finding suggests that this module enhanced amino acid specificity continuously, throughout their evolution. We call this type of reconstructed protein catalyst an Urzyme (Ur prefix indicates original, primitive, or earliest). It establishes a model for recapitulating very early steps in molecular evolution in which fitness may have been enhanced by accumulating entire modules, rather than by discrete amino acid sequence changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38590-38601
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number49
StatePublished - Dec 3 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Tryptophanyl-tRNA synthetase urzyme: A model to recapitulate molecular evolution and investigate intramolecular complementation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this