Special Issue "The Origins and Early Evolution of RNA"


A special issue of Life (ISSN 2075-1729). This special issue belongs to the section "Chemistry".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 30 September 2014

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Niles Lehman
Department of Chemistry, Portland State University, PO Box 751, Portland, OR 97207, USA
Website: http://www.pdx.edu/clas/profile/dr-niles-lehman
E-Mail: niles@pdx.edu
Phone: +1 503 725 8769
Interests: origins of life; RNA; ribozymes; recombination; prebiotic chemistry; systems chemistry, cooperation; in vitro evolution

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The notion that molecular systems such as RNA can display a wide range of evolutionary processes in the absence of fully formed cellular life continues to gain support. Understanding how RNA can behave in an abiotic context is a key piece of our picture of how life developed and expanded on the Earth, and by proxy, elsewhere. We can study how RNA behaves in this regard through a combination of in vivo work (with small regulatory RNAs and larger catalytic RNAs alike), experimental work in the laboratory, and through powerful analytical and simulation studies. These efforts will not only grant us a better sense of the early stages of life on this planet but also of how RNA evolved to play a central role in contemporary metabolism. Many key ideas of primitive RNA functionality were developed in the 1970s and 1980s before we had either the experimental systems in place to fully explore these concepts or the appreciation of the extent to which RNAs were important to the cell. In this special issue, some of the recent discoveries and advances in RNA biology, biochemistry, and evolutionary biology are presented.

Prof. Dr. Niles Lehman
Guest Editor


Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. Papers will be published continuously (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are refereed through a peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Life is an international peer-reviewed Open Access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 300 CHF (Swiss Francs). English correction and/or formatting fees of 250 CHF (Swiss Francs) will be charged in certain cases for those articles accepted for publication that require extensive additional formatting and/or English corrections.


  • RNA
  • primitive genotypes
  • genetic networks
  • fitness landscapes
  • genetic takeover
  • early evolutionary processes
  • evolvability
  • robustness
  • error threshold
  • quasispecies
  • small RNA-directed gene regulation

Published Papers (2 papers)

by  and
Life 2014, 4(2), 227-249; doi:10.3390/life4020227
Received: 30 January 2014; in revised form: 23 April 2014 / Accepted: 25 April 2014 / Published: 20 May 2014
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by , , ,  and
Life 2014, 4(2), 131-141; doi:10.3390/life4020131
Received: 27 February 2014; in revised form: 28 March 2014 / Accepted: 31 March 2014 / Published: 10 April 2014
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abstract graphic

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: In Vitro Selected Ribozymes
Author: Ulrich F. Müller
Affiliation: Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0356, USA
Abstract: The RNA world hypothesis states that during an early stage of life, RNA molecules functioned as genomes and as the only genome-encoded catalyst. This hypothesis is supported by several lines of evidence, one of which is the in vitro selection of catalytic RNAs (ribozymes) in the laboratory, for a wide range of reactions that might have been used by RNA world organisms. The focus of this review is to: summarize which ribozymes have been generated in the lab; describe some of their selection procedures; briefly discuss their relevance to RNA world scenarios; and to describe what future developments are required to generate an RNA world organism in the lab.

Title: The Evolution of the Ribosome and the Genetic Code
Author: Hyman Hartman 1,* and Temple F. Smith 2
Affiliation: 1 EAPS, MIT, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
2 BME, Boston University, Boston MA 02215: E-Mail: templesmith1@comcast.net
Abstract: The evolution of the genetic code is mapped out starting with the aminoacyl tRNA-synthetases and their interaction with the tRNA operational code, in the tRNA acceptor arm. Combining this operational code with a metric based on the biosynthesis of amino acids from the citric acid, we come to the conclusion that the earliest genetic code was a Guanine Cytosine (GC) code. This has implications for the likely earliest positive amino acids. The progression from this pure GC code to the extant one is traced out in the evolution of the large ribosomal subunit LSU and its proteins; in particular, those associated with the Peptidyl Transfer Center (PTC) and the nascent peptide exit tunnel. This progression has implications for the earliest encoded peptides and their evolutionary progression into full complex proteins.

Last update: 28 March 2014

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