Monday, March 2, 2009

Origin of the Ribosome

Has anyone read about the latest breakthrough in origin-of-life research? Well, two scientists believe that they have figured out how the ribosome (which is a part of our genetic code) originated. From Carl Zimmer's blogpost:

"Bokov and Steinberg propose that the seeming complexity of the ribosome is something of a mirage. Its evolution was actually pretty simple. It evolved from a tiny piece of RNA, perhaps only 110 nucleotides long. At first, this molecule didn't build proteins; it may have carried out some kind of reaction on other RNA molecules in RNA-based cells. Then mutations accidentally duplicated the fragment, building new units that could fold back on the older units. This protoribosome may have been able to add random building blocks together. New layers of loops evolved, making the ribosome more precise, able to build specific proteins when it read specific pieces of RNA. Newer loops made the ribosome even more stable and thus able to crank out proteins even faster. The last major step in the evolution of the ribosome was the addition of its proteins.

The most practical way to test Bokov and Steinberg's hypothesis will be to build the intermediate ribosomes and see if they work as predicted. But perhaps we should not give up on nature just yet. As I have reported, RNA-based life could conceivably still be hiding in refuges somewhere here on Earth, eking out an existence with ribosomes that are a little less hideous than our own."

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