Special Issue "The RNA World: Known Knowns and Known Unknowns"

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

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (28 February 2023) | Viewed by 257

Special Issue Editors

Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, 90095, USA
Interests: molecular evolution; biological homochirality; fitness landscapes; directed evolution; origin of life; mathematical modeling; sequence analysis; numerical simulation; bioinformatics; RNA world
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals
Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA
Interests: origin of life; RNA world; early evolution of life
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals
Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA
Interests: origin of life; prebiotic evolution; RNA world; minimal synthetic cells; molecular biology; protein and RNA biophysics; macromolecular crowding and confinement; UV damage; fluorescence spectroscopy
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Understanding how life arose is a fundamental problem of biology. One of the prevailing hypotheses is the ‘RNA world’. The general notion of an ‘RNA world’ is that there was an early stage in the evolutionary history of life on Earth, in which self-replicating RNA molecules acted both as genetic polymers and as catalysts. Later on, proteins became the catalyst of life and RNA reduced its function predominantly to information storage. In a more practical manner, the ‘RNA world’ can be regarded as a set of models that seek to explain a hypothetical period in the early evolution of life on Earth. Although the basic premise is generally well agreed-upon, specifics vary widely, depending on the assumptions and implications of each model. In this context, the ‘RNA world’ takes different forms for different researchers.

Even though there is evidence that an ‘RNA world’ existed before life was based on DNA and proteins, there are compelling arguments against the idea that life on Earth began with this molecule. While it seems safe to assume that all pieces necessary to create RNA molecules were available in a prebiotic environment, how these components could have assembled into replicating, evolving polynucleotides is an ongoing matter of debate. It is precisely here where the granularity of the ‘RNA world’ arises, as there are several alternatives to how the chemical stability of said polymer could be achieved; for instance, by interaction with amino acids, small peptides, metal ions, minerals, as well as with a wide range of organic molecules. Some of the main challenges of the ‘RNA world’ are related to the high complexity and low stability of RNA molecules, and the possible limitations of the catalytic repertoire of RNA. Although some recent experimental findings provide reason for optimism, the problem of the origin of the RNA world is far from being solved.

Fortunately, the repertoire of RNA activity is also extensive in all extant life, including in gene expression, essential biocatalysis, and host defense mechanisms. The constant interrogation of the modern non-hypothetical RNA world, together with research on prebiotically plausible scenarios, helps us gain some important insights into what a primordial ‘RNA world’ could have looked like. The objective of this Special Issue is to cover the state-of-the-art of developments related to the ‘RNA world’ hypothesis under the premise that there is no unique definition of the RNA world. We welcome research papers, review articles, and case reports of experimental, theoretical, or computational nature.

Dr. Celia Blanco
Dr. Alberto Vázquez-Salazar
Dr. Ranajay Saha
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short 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 thoroughly refereed through a single-blind 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 monthly 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 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.



  • RNA world
  • origins of life
  • evolutionary biology
  • molecular evolution
  • ribozymes
  • self-replication
  • catalysis
  • polynucleotides

Published Papers

There is no accepted submissions to this special issue at this moment.
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