Ligation of oligonucleotides by pyrimidine dimers--a missing 'link' in the origin of life?

Nature. 1982 Jul 22;298(5872):393-6. doi: 10.1038/298393a0.


One of the principal photochemical reactions of DNA on exposure to UV is the formation of intrastrand cyclobutane-type pyrimidine dimers. The efficiency of this reaction depends on both the wavelength of the UV2 and the specific nucleotide sequence in the DNA. The formation of the pyrimidine dimer and its repair in living cells have been studied extensively. We have examined the possibility that pyrimidines at the ends of DNA strands may be adequately juxtaposed for dimer formation by the presence of a complementary strand, even when no phosphodiester linkage joins their sugars. In these conditions the formation of a dimer will 'ligate' two DNA strands end-to-end. We report here that thymidine oligonucleotides annealed to polydeoxyadenylate can be ligated end-to-end by UV irradiation, via thymine dimerization of the terminal nucleotides in adjacent oligonucleotides. The linkages are susceptible to direct photoreversal by 254 nm UV, as expected for cyclobutane-type thymine dimers, but they are not cleaved by the bacteriophage T4 endonuclease V, a dimer-specific DNA repair enzyme. We demonstrate that the ligating dimers are also resistant to photolyase from Escherichia coli. Although the phosphodiester backbone is not required for dimer formation, it is required for recognition of dimers by these DNA repair enzymes. We discuss the possibility that high molecular weight polynucleotides in primordial seas might have been generated from oligonucleotides by pyrimidine dimerization under the intense solar UV flux unattenuated by an ozone layer.

MeSH terms

  • Endonucleases / pharmacology
  • Escherichia coli / enzymology
  • Oligonucleotides / metabolism*
  • Pyrimidine Dimers / metabolism*
  • Pyrimidine Dimers / radiation effects
  • T-Phages / enzymology
  • Thymidine / metabolism
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • Oligonucleotides
  • Pyrimidine Dimers
  • Endonucleases
  • Thymidine