Prebiotically Plausible 'Patching' of RNA Backbone Cleavage Through a 3′-5′ Pyrophosphate Linkage
Achieving multiple cycles of RNA replication within a model protocell would be a critical step towards demonstrating a path from prebiotic chemistry to cellular biology. Any model for early life based on an 'RNA world' must account for RNA strand cleavage and hydrolysis, which would degrade primitive genetic information and lead to an accumulation of truncated, phosphate-terminated strands. We show here that cleavage of the phosphodiester backbone is not an endpoint for RNA replication. Instead, 3′-phosphate terminated RNA strands are able to participate in template-directed copying reactions with activated ribonucleotide monomers. These reactions form a pyrophosphate linkage, the stability of which we have characterized in the context of RNA copying chemistry. We found that the pyrophosphate bond is relatively stable within an RNA duplex and in the presence of chelated magnesium. Under these conditions, pyrophosphate-RNA can act as a temporary 'patch' to template the polymerization of canonical ribonucleotides, suggesting a plausible non-enzymatic pathway for the salvage and recovery of genetic information following strand cleavage.
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