Education: Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, Ph.D. Nucleic Acid Chemistry
Institution: Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (laboratory of Philipp Holliger)
SCOL Project: An RNA Polymerase Ribozyme With General Replication Capacity
One of the fundamental traits of life is self-replication. Therefore, the emergence of self-replication is closely linked to the origins of life itself. Several strands of compelling evidence strongly suggest that our current biology, which relies on DNA for information storage and proteins for catalysis, was preceded by a primordial biology that instead relied on DNA’s close chemical cousin, RNA, for both heredity and metabolism.
It is therefore widely believed that this ancestral biology, also referred to as the ‘RNA world’ began with an RNA molecule that acquired a capacity for self-replication and mutation and hence evolution towards ever more efficient self-replication.
Unfortunately, this primordial replicase appears to have been lost. However, we can reconstruct modern analogues and study the properties of these molecular ‘doppelgängers’ in order to better understand life’s first genetic system. Furthermore, using methods of evolution in the laboratory, we can retrace the first steps that this ancestral molecule must have taken and ultimately reconstruct an RNA world in the test-tube.