Graduate Student - Dept. of Chemistry & Chemical Biology (Szostak Lab)
A central tenet of the RNA world is that RNA polymerases could replicate themselves. Over the last 20 years, RNA-dependent RNA polymerases have been evolved that can copy RNA sequences longer than themselves. The development of these polymerases required many rounds of selection and amplification. Since amplification would have required a polymerase there appears to be a paradox.
Non-enzymatic polymerization has been proposed as a solution to this paradox. Rather than relying on a complex, evolved RNA enzyme, RNA can polymerize on its own, relying only on base pairing-mediated self assembly. Despite demonstrations of such copying dating back to the 1960s, serious challenges remain in implementing a system of RNA polymerization that is fast, sequence-independent and high-fidelity. Recently, work focusing on using short oligomers to organize the single strand being copied has yielded promising results. Our results show that this effect can be significantly amplified by taking advantage of a previously identified dependence on interactions between leaving groups on the polymerizing monomers.