Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Template switching between PNA and RNA oligonucleotides


THE origin of the RNA world1 is not easily understood, as effective prebiotic syntheses of the components of RNA, the β-ribofurano-side-5′-phosphates, are hard to envisage2. Recognition of this difficulty has led to the proposal1,3 that other genetic systems, the components of which are more easily formed, may have preceded RNA. This raises the question of how transitions between one genetic system and another could occur. Peptide nucleic acid (PNA) resembles RNA in its ability to form double-helical complexes stabilized by Watson-Crick hydrogen bonding between adenine and thymine and between cytosine and guanine4á¤-6, but has a backbone that is held together by amide rather than by phosphodiester bonds. Oligonucleotides based on RNA are known to act as templates that catalyse the non-enzymatic synthesis of their complements from activated mononucleotides7á¤-9, we now show that RNA oligonucleotides facilitate the synthesis of complementary PNA strands and vice versa. This suggests that a transition between different genetic systems can occur without loss of information.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Gesteland, R. & Atkins, J. F. The RNA World. The Nature of Modern RNA Suggests a Prebiotic RNA World (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, New York, 1993).

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Joyce, G. F. & Orgel, L. E. in The RNA World (eds Gesteland, R. F. & Atkins, J. F.) 1–25 (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, New York, 1993).

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Cairns-Smith, A. G. & Davies, C. J. in Encyclopaedia of Ignorance (eds Duncan, R. & Weston-Smith, M.) (Pergamon, Oxford, 1977).

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Wittung, P., Nielsen, P. E., Buchardt, O., Egholm, M. & Nordén, B. Nature 368, 561–563 (1994).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Nielsen, P. E., Egholm, M., Berg, R. H. & Buchardt, O. Science 254, 1497–1500 (1991).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Egholm, M. et al. Nature 365, 566–568 (1993).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Joyce, G. F. Cold Spring Harb. Symp. quant. Biol. 52, 41–51 (1987).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Orgel, L. E. Nature 358, 203–209 (1992).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Hill, A. R. Jr, Orgel, L. E. & Wu, T. Origins Life Evol. Biosphere 23, 285–290 (1993).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Inoue, T. et al. J. molec. Biol. 178, 669–676 (1984).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Chen, C.-H.B., Inoue, T. & Orgel, L. E. J. molec. Biol. 181, 271–279 (1985).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Inoue, T. & Orgel, L. E. J. Am. chem. Soc. 103, 7666–7667 (1981).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Cairns-Smith, A. G. Genetic Takeover and the Mineral Origins of Life (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982).

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Joyce, G. F. et al. Nature 310, 602–604 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Joyce, G. F., Inoue, T. & Orgel, L. E. J. molec. Biol. 176, 279–306 (1984).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Böhler, C., Nielsen, P. & Orgel, L. Template switching between PNA and RNA oligonucleotides. Nature 376, 578–581 (1995).

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing