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Naturwissenschaften. 2012 Mar;99(3):167-76. doi: 10.1007/s00114-012-0892-6. Epub 2012 Feb 15.

On dating stages in prebiotic chemical evolution.

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Magdalen College, High Street, Oxford, OX1 4AU, England, UK.


The notion that RNA must have had a unique and decisive role in the development of life needs hardly be questioned. However, the chemical complexity and other properties of RNA, such as high solubility in water and vulnerability to degradation, make it improbable that RNA could have had an early presence in the development of life on Earth or on any comparable telluric planet. Rather, the task of origin of life research must surely be to identify those chemical processes which could have taken place on Earth that could accumulate the complexity and rich molecular information content needed to sustain primitive life, and ultimately give rise to RNA. A collection of likely chemical precursors to modern biomolecules is listed here together with calculations of their molecular complexity. These complexity scores are then used to propose an ordering, on a timescale, of when they might have appeared on Earth. These pre-RNA living systems would have flourished during the first ~0.3 Gyrs after the start of the Archaean era (~4.2 Gyr ago). If there ever was an "RNA-world" it could have started after that initial period (~3.9 Gyrs ago), later to be complemented with the appearance of duplex DNA at about ~3.6 Gyrs ago, some time before the earliest known stromatolites (~3.4 Gyr).

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