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Scientists have created a new type of genetic replication system which demonstrates how the first life on Earth - in the form of RNA - could have replicated itself.

The scientists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology say the new RNA utilises a system of genetic replication unlike any known to naturally occur on Earth today.

A popular theory for the earliest stages of life on Earth is that it was founded on strands of RNA, a chemical cousin of DNA. Like DNA, RNA strands can carry genetic information using a code of four molecular letters (bases), but RNA can be more than a simple 'string' of information. Some RNA strands can also fold up into three-dimensional shapes that can form enzymes, called ribozymes, and carry out chemical reactions.

If a ribozyme could replicate folded RNA, it might be able to copy itself and support a simple living system.

Previously, scientists had developed ribozymes that could replicate straight strands of RNA, but if the RNA was folded it blocked the ribozyme from copying it. Since ribozymes themselves are folded RNAs, their own replication is blocked.

Now, in a paper published today in the journal eLife, the scientists have resolved this paradox by engineering the first ribozyme that is able to replicate folded RNAs, including itself.

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Category: Science