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Life 2015, 5(1), 230-246;

How Amino Acids and Peptides Shaped the RNA World

Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica, Science Park 123, 1098 SJ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Department of Medical Biochemistry, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Meibergdreef 15, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Niles Lehman
Received: 30 November 2014 / Revised: 16 December 2014 / Accepted: 14 January 2015 / Published: 19 January 2015
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Origins and Early Evolution of RNA)
PDF [738 KB, uploaded 19 January 2015]


The “RNA world” hypothesis is seen as one of the main contenders for a viable theory on the origin of life. Relatively small RNAs have catalytic power, RNA is everywhere in present-day life, the ribosome is seen as a ribozyme, and rRNA and tRNA are crucial for modern protein synthesis. However, this view is incomplete at best. The modern protein-RNA ribosome most probably is not a distorted form of a “pure RNA ribosome” evolution started out with. Though the oldest center of the ribosome seems “RNA only”, we cannot conclude from this that it ever functioned in an environment without amino acids and/or peptides. Very small RNAs (versatile and stable due to basepairing) and amino acids, as well as dipeptides, coevolved. Remember, it is the amino group of aminoacylated tRNA that attacks peptidyl-tRNA, destroying the bond between peptide and tRNA. This activity of the amino acid part of aminoacyl-tRNA illustrates the centrality of amino acids in life. With the rise of the “RNA world” view of early life, the pendulum seems to have swung too much towards the ribozymatic part of early biochemistry. The necessary presence and activity of amino acids and peptides is in need of highlighting. In this article, we try to bring the role of the peptide component of early life back into focus. We argue that an RNA world completely independent of amino acids never existed. View Full-Text
Keywords: coevolutionary theory; RNA world; prebiotic chemistry; evolution coevolutionary theory; RNA world; prebiotic chemistry; evolution

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Van der Gulik, P.T.; Speijer, D. How Amino Acids and Peptides Shaped the RNA World. Life 2015, 5, 230-246.

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