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Strange cousins: Molecular alternatives to DNA, RNA offer new insight into life's origins
Date:4/20/2012

recipe essential for building proteins from the 20 naturally occurring amino acids. Exactly how (and when) this system got its start however, remains one of the most intriguing and hotly contested areas of biology.

According to one hypothesis, the simpler RNA molecule preceded DNA as the original informational conduit. The RNA world hypothesis proposes that the earliest examples of life were based on RNA and simple proteins. Because of RNA's great versatilityit is not only capable of carrying genetic information but also of catalyzing chemical reactions like an enzymeit is believed by many to have supported pre-cellular life.

Nevertheless, the spontaneous arrival of RNA through a sequence of purely random mixing events of primitive chemicals was at the very least, an unlikely occurrence. "This is a big question," Chaput says. "If the RNA world existed, how did it come into existence? Was it spontaneously produced, or was it the product of something that was even simpler than RNA?"

This pre-RNA world hypothesis has been gaining ground, largely through investigations into XNAs, which provide plausible alternatives to the current biological regime and could have acted as chemical stepping-stones to the eventual emergence of life. The current research strengthens the case that something like this may have taken place.

Threose nucleic acid or TNA for example, is one candidate for this critical intermediary role. "TNA does some interesting things," Chaput says, noting the molecule's capacity to bind with RNA through antiparallel Watson-Crick base pairing. "This property provides a model for how XNAs could have transferred information from the pre-RNA world to the RNA world."

Nucleic acid molecules, including DNA and RNA consist of 3 chemical components: a sugar group, a triphosphate backbone and combinations of the four nucleic acids. By tinkering with these structural elements, researchers can engineer XNA molecules with unique pr
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Contact: Richard Harth
richard.harth@asu.edu
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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