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.

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

Published Papers (3 papers)

by , , , , ,  and
Life 2014, 4(3), 341-373; doi:10.3390/life4030341
Received: 29 April 2014; in revised form: 23 July 2014 / Accepted: 25 July 2014 / Published: 11 August 2014
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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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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: Acytota: Neglected Kingdom of Life
Edward N. Trifonov 1 and Eduard Kejnovsky 2
1 Genome Diversity Center, Institute of Evolution, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel
Department of Plant Developmental Genetics, Institute of Biophysics ASCR, Kralovopolska 135, 61265 Brno, Czech Republic
There is a huge variety of RNA- and DNA-containing entities which multiply within and propagate between cells of all kingdoms of life, having no cells of their own. Apart of cellular organisms these entities (viroids, plasmids, mobile elements, viruses and others) are the only ones which have their distinct genetic identities, but not included in any kingdom of life, since all the traditional kingdoms are cellular. We suggest to introduce the distinct category of the acellular organisms, Acytota, as an additional, undeservedly ignored kingdom of life. Acytota are indispensable for cellular life and its evolution. Six traditional kingdoms (Cytota) together with Acytota complete the classification of biological world (Biota), leaving nothing life-like beyond.

Title: The Proto-Ribosome within the Modern Ribosome—the Symmetrical Region, Its Extended Form or Its Core?
Ilana C. Agmon 1,2
1 Institute for Advanced Studies in Theoretical Chemistry, Schulich Faculty of Chemistry—Technion—Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa 32000, Israel
Fritz Haber Research Center for Molecular Dynamics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 91904, Israel
The vestige of the proto-ribosome is believed to be still embedded in the contemporary ribosome, assembling the site of peptide bond formation. Three concentric structural elements of different magnitudes, namely, the entire symmetrical region of the large subunit, its core and an extended version of it, were suggested to constitute the vestiges of the proto-ribosome, which could have materialized spontaneously in the prebiotic world, catalyzing non-coded peptide bond formation and simple elongation. Probabilistic considerations are applied in order to compare the adequacy of the three candidates to be the initial proto-ribosome to emerge. The analysis points to the dimeric proto-ribosome, a dimer of two tRNA-like molecules constituting the core of the symmetrical region, as being the vestige of the initial proto-ribosome within the contemporary ribosome. Moreover, analysis suggests that this simple apparatus had a reasonable probability of random emergence in the prebiotic era, offering a feasible starting point for a continuous evolutionary path leading from the prebiotic matter into the intricate modern translation system.

Last update: 26 August 2014

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