Article

Prebiotic chemistry and the origin of the RNA world.

The Salk Institute, La Jolla, California 92097, USA.
Critical Reviews in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Impact Factor: 5.58). 03/2010; 39(2):99-123. DOI: 10.1080/10409230490460765
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The demonstration that ribosomal peptide synthesis is a ribozyme-catalyzed reaction makes it almost certain that there was once an RNA World. The central problem for origin-of-life studies, therefore, is to understand how a protein-free RNA World became established on the primitive Earth. We first review the literature on the prebiotic synthesis of the nucleotides, the nonenzymatic synthesis and copying of polynucleotides, and the selection of ribozyme catalysts of a kind that might have facilitated polynucleotide replication. This leads to a brief outline of the Molecular Biologists' Dream, an optimistic scenario for the origin of the RNA World. In the second part of the review we point out the many unresolved problems presented by the Molecular Biologists' Dream. This in turn leads to a discussion of genetic systems simpler than RNA that might have "invented" RNA. Finally, we review studies of prebiotic membrane formation.

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    ABSTRACT: The link between non-enzymatic RNA polymerization and RNA self-replication is a key step towards the "RNA world" and still far from being solved, despite extensive research. Clay minerals, lipids and, more recently, peptides were found to catalyze the non-enzymatic synthesis of RNA oligomers. Herein, a review of the main models for the formation of the first RNA polymers is presented in such a way as to emphasize the cooperation between life's building blocks in their emergence and evolution. A logical outcome of the previous results is a combination of these models, in which RNA polymerization might have been catalyzed cooperatively by clays, lipids and peptides in one multi-component prebiotic soup. The resulting RNAs and oligopeptides might have mutualistically evolved towards functional RNAs and catalytic peptides, preceding the first RNA replication, thus supporting an RNA-peptide world. The investigation of such a system is a formidable challenge, given its complexity deriving from a tremendously large number of reactants and innumerable products. A rudimentary experimental design is outlined, which could be used in an initial attempt to study a quaternary component system.
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