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Exoplanet Exploration

Impact of Local Environments on the Functional Potential of RNA

Active Technology Project

Project Introduction

Impact of Local Environments on the Functional Potential of RNA
RNA world theories figure prominently in many scenarios for the origin and early evolution of life. These theories posit that RNA molecules played a much larger role in ancient biology than they do now, acting both as the dominant biocatalysts and as the repository of genetic information. Strong support for an RNA world is found in the functional capabilities of RNA exhibited by modern biology. Additional support for an RNA world is found in the diversity of functions that have been demonstrated independent of biology using in vitro evolution. In vitro evolution has identified RNA molecules that bind diverse molecular targets (aptamers) and RNAs that catalyze multiple reactions (ribozymes) including phosphoryl-transfer, redox reactions, and carbon-carbon bond formation. The RNA functions exhibited by modern biology and those discovered independent of biology through in vitro evolution have been used to developed and constrain RNA world theories; however, the conditions under which these experiments have been conducted is relatively narrow when compared the range of conditions under which life may have emerged. The range of conditions under which random sequence space has been probed for functional RNAs is far narrower than the range of conditions under which RNA is functional in extant biology, or is presumed to have been functional in the very earliest forms of life. To better understand the impact of the local environment on functional capacity and evolution of RNA, we will evolved several populations of catalytic RNAs staring from random sequences. These RNA populations will be evolved in a variety of different environments in vitro. Evaluating these populations will allow us to understand the impact of the local environment on RNA's functional potential ,what roles RNA could have played in the origin of life, and what conditions are most favorable to RNA catalysis. More »

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