AFM Images of Viroid-Sized Rings That Self-Assemble from Mononucleotides through Wet-Dry Cycling: Implications for the Origin of Life

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It is possible that early life relied on RNA polymers that served as ribozyme-like catalysts and for storing genetic information. The source of such polymers is uncertain, but previous investigations reported that wet-dry cycles simulating prebiotic hot springs provide sufficient energy to drive condensation reactions of mononucleotides to form oligomers. The aim of the study reported here was to visualize the products by atomic force microscopy. In addition to globular oligomers, ring-like structures ranging from 10-200 nm in diameter, with an average around 30-40 nm, were abundant, particularly when nucleotides capable of base pairing were present. The thickness of the rings was consistent with single stranded products, but some had thicknesses indicating base pair stacking. Others had more complex structures in the form of short polymer attachments and pairing of rings. These observations suggest the possibility that base-pairing may promote polymerization during wet-dry cycling followed by solvation of the rings. We conclude that RNA-like rings and structures could have been synthesized non-enzymatically on the prebiotic Earth, with sizes sufficient to fold into ribozymes and genetic molecules required for life to begin.

Original languageEnglish
Article number321
Issue number12
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • origin of life, RNA, wet-dry cycle, AFM, viroid, DNA

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