Life (Basel, Switzerland)

Characterization of RNA-Like Oligomers from Lipid-Assisted Nonenzymatic Synthesis: Implications for Origin of Informational Molecules on Early Earth.

PMID 25569237


Prebiotic polymerization had to be a nonenzymatic, chemically driven process. These processes would have been particularly favored in scenarios which push reaction regimes far from equilibrium. Dehydration-rehydration (DH-RH) cycles are one such regime thought to have been prevalent on prebiotic Earth in niches like volcanic geothermal pools. The present study defines the optimum DH-RH reaction conditions for lipid-assisted polymerization of nucleotides. The resultant products were characterized to understand their chemical makeup. Primarily, our study demonstrates that the resultant RNA-like oligomers have abasic sites, which means these oligomers lack information-carrying capability because of losing most of their bases during the reaction process. This results from low pH and high temperature conditions, which, importantly, also allows the formation of sugar-phosphate oligomers when ribose 5'-monophosphates are used as the starting monomers instead. Formation of such oligomers would have permitted sampling of a large variety of bases on a preformed polymer backbone, resulting in "prebiotic phosphodiester polymers" prior to the emergence of modern RNA-like molecules. This suggests that primitive genetic polymers could have utilized bases that conferred greater N-glycosyl bond stability, a feature crucial for information propagation in low pH and high temperature regimes of early Earth.