Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Giving Birth to The Genetic Stuff of Life

Intercalation as a means to suppress cyclization and promote polymerization of base-pairing oligonucleotides in a prebiotic world. 2010. E. D. Horowitz, et al. PNAS, Published online before print March 8.

FF © Marvel Comics
Scientists have discovered that small molecules could have acted as "molecular midwives" in helping the building blocks of life's genetic material form long chains and may have assisted in selecting the base pairs of the DNA double helix.

"Our hypothesis is that before there were protein enzymes to make DNA and RNA, there were small molecules present on the pre-biotic Earth that helped make these polymers by promoting molecular self-assembly," said Nicholas V. Hud.

"We've found that the molecule ethidium can assist short oligonucleotides in forming long polymers and can also select the structure of the base pairs that hold together two strands of DNA."

One of the biggest problems in getting a polymer to form is that, as it grows, its two ends often react with each other instead of forming longer chains. The problem is known as strand cyclization, but Hud and his team discovered that using a molecule that binds between neighboring base pairs of DNA, known as an intercalator, can bring short pieces of DNA and RNA together in a manner that helps them create much longer molecules. link