There is great debate as to the origin of modern day life, and its replicative and catalytic mechanisms. One of the main questions debated by scientists concerning the origin of life is whether life was first based on proteins or nucleic acids. As polynucleotides are able to form copies of their own sequences and polypeptides are not, many people believe nucleic acids are far more likely to have existed first. Both RNA and DNA are possible contenders as the basis of early life. So far, there are no remnants of pre-cellular life, making all theories as to what form this life may have taken purely theoretical (Klyce, 1998). In the modern world, biological information is stored by DNA and processed to form proteins via RNA. The RNA world theory suggests that early life may have been based on RNA as the sole informational and catalytic molecule (Allison, 2012). Any molecule forming the basis of life would need to be capable of storing information and replication without the aid of other molecules. There are various reasons why many people consider RNA to be a much more suitable candidate as the first informational molecule than DNA.
Structural differences between RNA and DNA
RNA differs from DNA in ways which suggest life is more likely to have originally been based on RNA. DNA consists of a backbone phosphate groups attached to a 5 carbon deoxyribose sugar. The backbone is attached to the bases cytosine, thymine, adenine and guanine. The basic structure of RNA is very similar to that of DNA, but with two key differences. In RNA, the base uracil replaces the thymine base found in DNA, and RNA co...
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...nds of temperatures are way above those required to degrade RNA. This problem could, again, be argued against by stating that there must have been some form of pre-RNA-based life which then evolved into the RNA world once the Earth had cooled (Slonczewski, 2014).
In conclusion, life is much more likely to have originated from an RNA world than a DNA world. If it is assumed that nucleic acids did come before proteins then the choice between RNA and DNA as the original basis of life is a relatively easy one. RNA is the only one capable of carrying the autocatalytic functions and information storage required for life which are now carried out by DNA and proteins. This is mainly down to its tendency to be single stranded, unlike DNA, and therefore its ability to fold into specific three-dimensional structures with catalytic properties (Allison, 2012).
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