The Role of Templating in the Emergence of RNA from the Prebiotic Chemical Mixture Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Biological RNA is a uniform polymer in three senses: it uses nucleotides of a single chirality; it uses only ribose sugars and four nucleobases rather than a mixture of other sugars and bases; and it uses only 3'-5' bonds rather than a mixture of different bond types. We suppose that prebiotic chemistry would generate a diverse mixture of potential monomers, and that random polymerization would generate non-uniform strands of mixed chirality, monomer composition, and bond type. We ask what factors lead to the emergence of RNA from this mixture. We show that template-directed replication can lead to the emergence of all the uniform properties of RNA by the same mechanism. We study a computational model in which nucleotides react via polymerization, hydrolysis, and template-directed ligation. Uniform strands act as templates for ligation of shorter oligomers of the same type, whereas mixed strands do not act as templates. The three uniform properties emerge naturally when the ligation rate is high. If there is an exact symmetry, as with the chase of chirality, the uniform property arises via a symmetry-breaking phase transition. If there is no exact symmetry, as with monomer selection and backbone regioselectivity, the uniform property emerges gradually as the rate of template-directed ligation is increased.

publication date

  • October 31, 2017

published in