Nature, Vol.379, No.6562, 238-240, 1996
Synthesis of RNA Oligomers on Heterogeneous Templates
THE concept of an RNA world(1,2) in the chemical origin of life is appealing, as nucleic acids are capable of both information storage and acting as templates that catalyse the synthesis of complementary molecules(3). Template-directed synthesis has been demonstrated for homogeneous oligonucleotides that, like natural nucleic acids, have 3’,5’ linkages between the nucleotide monomers(4-7). But it seems likely that prebiotic routes to RNA-like molecules would have produced heterogeneous molecules,vith various kinds of phosphodiester linkages and both linear and cyclic nucleotide chains. Here we show that such heterogeneity need be no obstacle to the templating of complementary molecules. Specifically, we show that heterogeneous oligocytidylates, formed by the montmorillonite clay-catalysed condensation of actuated monomers, can serve as templates for the synthesis of oligoguanylates. Furthermore, we show that oligocytidylates that are exclusively 2’,5’-linked can also direct synthesis of oligoguanylates. Such heterogeneous templating reactions could have increased the diversity of the pool of protonucleic acids from which life ultimately emerged.