insight

Nature 418, 214-221 (11 July 2002) | doi:10.1038/418214a

The antiquity of RNA-based evolution

Gerald F. Joyce

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All life that is known to exist on Earth today and all life for which there is evidence in the geological record seems to be of the same form — one based on DNA genomes and protein enzymes. Yet there are strong reasons to conclude that DNA- and protein-based life was preceded by a simpler life form based primarily on RNA. This earlier era is referred to as the 'RNA world', during which the genetic information resided in the sequence of RNA molecules and the phenotype derived from the catalytic properties of RNA.