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J Theor Biol. 2011 Sep 7;284(1):32-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2011.06.009. Epub 2011 Jun 17.

RNA templating of molecular assembly and covalent modification patterning in early molecular evolution and modern biosystems.

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CytoCure LLC, 100 Cummings Center, Beverly, MA 01915, USA.


The Direct RNA Template (DRT) hypothesis proposes that an early stage of genetic code evolution involved RNA molecules acting as stereochemical recognition templates for assembly of specific amino acids in sequence-ordered arrays, providing a framework for directed covalent peptide bond formation. It is hypothesized here that modern biological precedents may exist for RNA-based structural templating with functional analogies to hypothetical DRT systems. Beyond covalent molecular assembly, an extension of the DRT concept can include RNA molecules acting as dynamic structural template guides for the specific non-covalent assembly of multi-subunit complexes, equivalent to structural assembly chaperones. However, despite numerous precedents for RNA molecules acting as scaffolds for protein complexes, true RNA-mediated assembly chaperoning appears to be absent in modern biosystems. Another level of function with parallels to a DRT system is possible if RNA structural motifs dynamically guided specific patterns of catalytic modifications within multiple target sites in a pre-formed polymer or macromolecular complex. It is suggested that this type of structural RNA templating could logically play a functional role in certain areas of biology, one of which is the glycome of complex organisms. If any such RNA templating processes are shown to exist, they would share no necessary evolutionary relationships with events during early molecular evolution, but may promote understanding of the practical limits of biological RNA functions now and in the ancient RNA World. Awareness of these formal possibilities may also assist in the current search for functions of extensive non-coding RNAs in complex organisms, or for efforts towards artificial rendering of DRT systems.

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