The role of sugar-backbone heterogeneity and chimeras in the simultaneous emergence of RNA and DNA.Nat Chem 2019NC
Hypotheses of the origins of RNA and DNA are generally centred on the prebiotic synthesis of a pristine system (pre-RNA or RNA), which gives rise to its descendent. However, a lack of specificity in the synthesis of genetic polymers would probably result in chimeric sequences; the roles and fate of such sequences are unknown. Here, we show that chimeras, exemplified by mixed threose nucleic acid (TNA)-RNA and RNA-DNA oligonucleotides, preferentially bind to, and act as templates for, homogeneous TNA, RNA and DNA ligands. The chimeric templates can act as a catalyst that mediates the ligation of oligomers to give homogeneous backbone sequences, and the regeneration of the chimeric templates potentiates a scenario for a possible cross-catalytic cycle with amplification. This process provides a proof-of-principle demonstration of a heterogeneity-to-homogeneity scenario and also gives credence to the idea that DNA could appear concurrently with RNA, instead of being its later descendent.