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Improved RNA Polymerase

Scripps Research Institute investigators mixed together water, RNA, and ribozyme to recreate part of the hypothesized 'RNA world,' Live Science reports. That hypothesis says that life first emerged as RNA-based before being superseded by DNA as the major genetic material and proteins as enzymes, it notes.

As Scripps' David Horning and Gerald Joyce report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they found that an improved RNA polymerase ribozyme evolved in vitro. In addition, this RNA polymerase could synthesize structured functional RNAs — including aptamers, ribozymes, and tRNAs — and replicate and amplify short RNA sequences.

"It's the first example of nucleic acids (or genetic information in general) being replicated by anything other than a protein enzyme, and further shows that replication of genetic material could be accomplished with RNA alone, confirming part of the RNA world hypothesis," Horning tells Live Science.

The University of North Carolina's Charles Carter notes that ribozyme "is entirely the product of 21st-century technology" and doesn't quite address prebiotic chemistry. He still, though, tells Live Science that the work was a "tour de force."