Force for ancient and recent life: viral and stem-loop RNA consortia promote life

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2015 Apr;1341:25-34. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12565. Epub 2014 Nov 6.


Lytic viruses were thought to kill the most numerous host (i.e., kill the winner). But persisting viruses/defectives can also protect against viruses, especially in a ubiquitous virosphere. In 1991, Yarmolinsky et al. discovered the addiction modules of P1 phage, in which opposing toxic and protective functions stabilize persistence. Subsequently, I proposed that lytic and persisting cryptic virus also provide addiction modules that promote group identity. In eukaryotes (and the RNA world), a distinct RNA virus-host relationship exists. Retrovirurses/retroposons are major contributors to eukaryotic genomes. Eukaryotic complexity appears to be mostly mediated by regulatory complexity involving noncoding retroposon-derived RNA. RNA viruses evolve via quasispecies, which contain cooperating, minority, and even opposing RNA types. Quasispecies can also demonstrate group preclusion (e.g., hepatitis C). Stem-loop RNA domains are found in long terminal repeats (and viral RNA) and mediate viral regulation/identity. Thus, stem-loop RNAs may be ancestral regulators. I consider the RNA (ribozyme) world scenario from the perspective of addiction modules and cooperating quasispecies (i.e., subfunctional agents that establish group identity). Such an RNA collective resembles a "gang" but requires the simultaneous emergence of endonuclease, ligase, cooperative catalysis, group identity, and history markers (RNA). I call such a collective a gangen (pathway to gang) needed for life to emerge.

Keywords: cooperatively; evolution; gangen; group selection; origin of life; virus.

MeSH terms

  • Eukaryota / genetics*
  • Eukaryota / virology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / genetics
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Origin of Life*
  • RNA / chemistry
  • RNA / genetics*
  • RNA / metabolism
  • RNA Viruses / genetics*
  • RNA Viruses / physiology
  • RNA, Catalytic / genetics
  • RNA, Catalytic / metabolism


  • RNA, Catalytic
  • RNA