The origin of the RNA world: co-evolution of genes and metabolism

Bioorg Chem. 2007 Dec;35(6):430-43. doi: 10.1016/j.bioorg.2007.08.001. Epub 2007 Sep 25.


Discoveries demonstrating that RNA can serve genetic, catalytic, structural, and regulatory roles have provided strong support for the existence of an RNA World that preceded the origin of life as we know it. Despite the appeal of this idea, it has been difficult to explain how macromolecular RNAs emerged from small molecules available on the early Earth. We propose here a mechanism by which mutual catalysis in a pre-biotic network initiated a progression of stages characterized by ever larger and more effective catalysts supporting a proto-metabolic network, and the emergence of RNA as the dominant macromolecule due to its ability to both catalyze chemical reactions and to be copied in a template-directed manner. This model suggests that many features of modern life, including the biosynthetic pathways leading to simple metabolites, the structures of organic and metal ion cofactors, homochirality, and template-directed replication of nucleic acids, arose long before the RNA World and were retained as pre-biotic systems became more sophisticated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Catalysis
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Origin of Life*
  • RNA* / chemical synthesis
  • RNA* / genetics
  • RNA* / metabolism
  • Thermodynamics


  • RNA