Editor's Summary

14 May 2009

RNA is for life


The origin of life on Earth required — at some point — the synthesis of a genetic polymer from simple chemicals. The leading candidate for this role is RNA, but although 'activated' ribonucleotide molecules (the building blocks of RNA) can polymerize without enzymes, no plausible route had been found by which the ribonucleotides could have formed. Now a team from the University of Manchester has found such a route. They also show that a widely held assumption about ribonucleotide synthesis — that the molecules formed from pre-existing sugar molecules and RNA bases — isn't necessary for RNA to have formed on prebiotic Earth.

News and ViewsOrigins of life: Systems chemistry on early Earth

Understanding how life emerged on Earth is one of the greatest challenges facing modern chemistry. A new way of looking at the synthesis of RNA sidesteps a thorny problem in the field.

Jack W. Szostak

doi:10.1038/459171a

LetterSynthesis of activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides in prebiotically plausible conditions

Matthew W. Powner, Béatrice Gerland & John D. Sutherland

doi:10.1038/nature08013