Nav: Home

How RNA formed at the origins of life

May 19, 2017

A single process for how a group of molecules called nucleotides were made on the early Earth, before life began, has been suggested by a UCL-led team of researchers.

Nucleotides are essential to all life on Earth as they form the building blocks of DNA or RNA, and understanding how they were first made is a long-standing challenge that must be resolved to elucidate the origins of life.

In a study, published today in Nature Communications and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Simons Foundation and the Origins of Life Challenge, researchers from UCL, Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital suggest a single chemical mechanism by which both classes of nucleotides -- purines and pyrimidines -- could have formed together.

Before now, scientists thought that the two classes of nucleotide must have been made separately and under mutually incompatible conditions. This study is the first to show that both purines and pyrimidines can be formed from a common precursor molecule that existed before life began.

"We provide a new perspective on how the original RNA molecules were made and suggest a simple chemical solution for delivering both purine and pyrimidine nucleotides at the origins of life," explained corresponding author, Dr Matthew Powner (UCL Chemistry).

"RNA is the corner stone of all life on Earth and probably carried the first information at the outset of life, but making RNA requires both purine and pyrimidine nucleotides to be simultaneously available. A solution to this problem has remained elusive for more than 50 years."

The team demonstrated how purines and pyrimidine nucleotides can both be assembled on the same sugar scaffold to form molecules called ribonucleotides which are used to construct RNA.

Purine and pyrimidine nucleotides are used to create the DNA and RNA. The purine and pyrimidine nucleotides bind to one another through specific molecular interactions that provide a mechanism to copy and transfer information at the molecular level, which is essential for genetics, replication and evolution. Therefore understanding the origins of nucleotides is thought to be key to understanding the origins of life itself.

The team discovered that molecules, called 8-oxo-adenosine and 8-oxo-inosine, which are purine ribonucleotides, can be formed under the same chemical conditions as the natural pyrimidine ribonucleotides. They also found that one chemical precursor can divergently yield both purine and pyrimidine ribonucleotides.

"The mechanism we've reported gives both classes of molecule the same stereochemistry that is universally found in the sugar scaffold of biological nucleic acids, suggesting that 8-oxo-purine ribonucleotides may have played a key role in primordial nucleic acids," said Dr Shaun Stairs (UCL Chemistry), first author of the study.

The team now plans to further investigate mechanisms that use 8-oxo-purines to transfer information, which could help scientists better understand life's first informational transfer systems.
-end-


University College London

Related Rna Articles:

New RNA molecules may play a role in aging
Using a new sequencing method, this class of previously invisible RNA molecules were found to be abundantly expressed.
AI reveals nature of RNA-protein interactions
A deep learning tool could help in structure-based drug discovery.
Uncovering the principles behind RNA folding
Using high-throughput next-generation sequencing technology, Professor Julius Lucks found similarities in the folding tendencies among a family of RNA molecules called riboswitches, which play a pivotal role in gene expression.
A new, unified pathway for prebiotic RNA synthesis
Adding to support for the RNA world hypothesis, Sidney Becker and colleagues have presented what's not been shown before -- a single chemical pathway that could generate both the purine and pyrimidine nucleosides, the key building blocks of RNA.
Blue light for RNA control
Messenger RNA molecules contain genetic information and thus control the synthesis of proteins in living cells.
New ways to look at protein-RNA networks
For their vital tasks, all RNA molecules in our cells require proteins as binding partners.
We now know how RNA molecules are organized in cells
With their new finding, Canadian scientists urge revision of decades-old dogma on protein synthesis
RNA microchips
Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is, along with DNA and protein, one of the three primary biological macromolecules and was probably the first to arise in early life forms.
Attacking RNA with small-molecule drugs
Yale researchers have developed a way to target RNA with small-molecule drugs, creating a new method for tapping into a vast number of biological mechanisms critical to metabolism and gene expression.
An RNA key that unlocks innate immunity
New research from Emory University, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, shows that a versatile RNA molecule may be a key player in human cells' frontline defenses against viruses.
More Rna News and Rna Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Accessing Better Health
Essential health care is a right, not a privilege ... or is it? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can give everyone access to a healthier way of life, despite who you are or where you live. Guests include physician Raj Panjabi, former NYC health commissioner Mary Bassett, researcher Michael Hendryx, and neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#544 Prosperity Without Growth
The societies we live in are organised around growth, objects, and driving forward a constantly expanding economy as benchmarks of success and prosperity. But this growing consumption at all costs is at odds with our understanding of what our planet can support. How do we lower the environmental impact of economic activity? How do we redefine success and prosperity separate from GDP, which politicians and governments have focused on for decades? We speak with ecological economist Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Propserity, and author of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab