The current consensus holds that life emerged from an ‘RNA-world’, first named by Nobel Laureate Walter Gilbert in 1986. This hypothesis suggests that a system of RNA chemistry formed the evolutionary precursor to the Central Dogma.
Now two recent papers argue for a new hypothesis. Publishing in the journals Molecular Biology and Evolution and Biosystems, Charles Carter, from the University of North Carolina, US, and Peter Wills, from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, seek to challenge the RNA-world idea.
The authors mount a two-pronged attack, first demonstrating that the ‘RNA-world’ cannot explain the development of the Central Dogma.
Secondly, they provide an alternative hypothesis that “the key processes of the Central Dogma of molecular biology emerged simultaneously and naturally from simple origins in a peptide-RNA partnership”, which does away with the need for the RNA-world hypothesis entirely. Their idea relies on their experimental work on an ancient class of peptide enzymes called aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRSs), which play a pivotal role in the Central Dogma, converting genetic information into proteins.
Taken together the authors claim that their work provides a simpler and more plausible account of how both the genetic coding mechanism of inheritance and the expression of genes as proteins co-evolved to form the basis of life as we know it.
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