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RNA. 2011 Jul;17(7):1274-81. doi: 10.1261/rna.2726811. Epub 2011 May 27.

Polymerase ribozyme efficiency increased by G/T-rich DNA oligonucleotides.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA.


The RNA world hypothesis states that the early evolution of life went through a stage where RNA served as genome and as catalyst. The replication of RNA world organisms would have been facilitated by ribozymes that catalyze RNA polymerization. To recapitulate an RNA world in the laboratory, a series of RNA polymerase ribozymes was developed previously. However, these ribozymes have a polymerization efficiency that is too low for self-replication, and the most efficient ribozymes prefer one specific template sequence. The limiting factor for polymerization efficiency is the weak sequence-independent binding to its primer/template substrate. Most of the known polymerase ribozymes bind an RNA heptanucleotide to form the P2 duplex on the ribozyme. By modifying this heptanucleotide, we were able to significantly increase polymerization efficiency. Truncations at the 3'-terminus of this heptanucleotide increased full-length primer extension by 10-fold, on a specific template sequence. In contrast, polymerization on several different template sequences was improved dramatically by replacing the RNA heptanucleotide with DNA oligomers containing randomized sequences of 15 nt. The presence of G and T in the random sequences was sufficient for this effect, with an optimal composition of 60% G and 40% T. Our results indicate that these DNA sequences function by establishing many weak and nonspecific base-pairing interactions to the single-stranded portion of the template. Such low-specificity interactions could have had important functions in an RNA world.

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