Behaviour of RNA under hydrothermal conditions and the origins of life
The RNA world hypothesis and the hydrothermal origin of life hypothesis are contradictory to each other. Although it is considered that RNA molecules are too labile to maintain life-like systems at high temperatures and there is extensive literature on nucleic acid hydrolysis, the stability and the chemical evolution of RNA have not been sufficiently analysed from the viewpoint of hydrothermal reactions. Based on our experimental data concerning the stability and the prebiotic formation of RNA at high temperatures, two different aspects seem to be important for evaluating whether RNA molecules are too labile. First, the stability of RNA molecules should be evaluated from the comparison of the rate of formation and the rate of degradation of RNA in open systems. Our prebiotic reaction models of phosphodiester bond formation suggest that at high temperatures the accumulation of RNA may be possible. However, an RNA world entirely consisting of RNA molecules is unlikely to occur because the biologically important interactions are not effective for the bare RNA molecules at high temperatures. Second, since enzymes presently mediate most biological reactions, evaluation of the accumulation of RNA should be based on the comparison between the enzymatic and non-enzymatic reaction rates. Hence, the evaluation of the primitive enzymatic reaction rates at high temperatures has been attempted. There is a large difference between the present enzymatic reaction rates at 25–90 °C and the non-enzymatic reaction rates at high temperatures of 200–300 °C. It is thus possible that prebiotic enzyme-like assemblies could have facilitated the accumulation of RNA molecules at hydrothermal vent temperatures.(Published Online June 10 2005)
(Received July 7 2004)
(Accepted March 7 2005)
Key Words: chemical evolution; hydrothermal origin of life; hydrothermal reaction; origin of enzyme; RNA world; stability of RNA.