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Exoplanet Exploration

In Search of Simpler Genetic Systems

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In Search of Simpler Genetic Systems
The concept of 'simpler genetic systems' has been introduced in the context of origins of life research to overcome the difficulties faced in the process of self-assembly of RNA from its constituent building blocks. This has led to a search for systems based primarily on 'structural simplicity' by paring down RNA. However, many of the structurally simpler systems are not 'simple' when viewed from the angle of how they would form from simpler building blocks derivable from potential prebiotic precursor molecules under plausible prebiotic geochemical environments. We propose that the constituents of metabolic cycles can be used as a starting point to search for possible building blocks of simpler genetic systems. The central objective of the proposal is to evaluate whether simpler genetic systems can be generated with molecules that are of 'lower' complexity than ribose-5-phosphate (by similar chemical pathways). The proposal aims to determine at what level of chemical sophistication of systems chemistry (comprising of chemical reactions and pathways) does the potential and opportunity arise for a self-assembly of a molecular scaffold and architecture that has the capability of acting as a rudimentary genetic system. Such an experimental investigation may give rise to the possibility of mimicking the process of how set(s) of reactions and their participants can progress to give rise to further molecular actors that are capable of acquiring properties (such as self-replication) not inherent in the starting set of molecules. This would address a major objective of Exobiology: determining what chemical systems could have served as precursors of metabolic and replicating systems on Earth and elsewhere, including alternatives to the current DNA-RNA-protein basis for life. More »

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