Proteins -- Evolution, Catalytic RNA, DNA -- Origin
An RNA-DNA World could arise from an all-RNA system with the development of as few as three ribozymes— a DNA-dependent RNA polymerase, an RNA-dependent DNA polymerase, and a catalyst for the production of DNA nucleotides. A significant objection to DNA preceding proteins is that RNA has not been shown to catalyze the production of DNA. However, RNA- and DNAzymes have been recently discovered that catalyze chemical reactions capable of forming deoxyribose, such as mixed aldol condensation of 5’-glyceryl- and 3’- glycoaldehyde-terminated DNA strands. Thus, the only remaining obstacles to RNA-catalyzed in vitro DNA synthesis are alterations of substrate and template specificities of known ribozymes. The RNA-DNA World lessens genomic size constraints through a relaxed error threshold, affording the evolutionary time needed to develop protein synthesis. Separation of information from catalyst enables genotype and phenotype to be readily discriminated by absence or presence, respectively, of the 2’-OH. Novel ribozymes that arise through mutation can be preserved in DNA by reverse transcription, which makes them much more likely to be retained than in an RNA-genome milieu. The extra degree of separation between protein and mRNA, in terms of identifying and then retaining a useful enzyme, may have in fact necessitated storing information in DNA prior to the advent of translation.
Burton, A.S.; Lehman, N. (2009). DNA before proteins? Recent discoveries in nucleic acid catalysis strengthen the case. Astrobiology 9:125-130.