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Nat Chem. 2017 Apr;9(4):325-332. doi: 10.1038/nchem.2739. Epub 2017 Mar 6.

Simple peptides derived from the ribosomal core potentiate RNA polymerase ribozyme function.

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MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Francis Crick Avenue, Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Cambridge CB2 0QH, UK.


The emergence of functional interactions between nucleic acids and polypeptides was a key transition in the origin of life and remains at the heart of all biology. However, how and why simple non-coded peptides could have become critical for RNA function is unclear. Here, we show that putative ancient peptide segments from the cores of both ribosomal subunits enhance RNA polymerase ribozyme (RPR) function, as do derived homopolymeric peptides comprising lysine or the non-proteinogenic lysine analogues ornithine or, to a lesser extent, diaminobutyric acid, irrespective of chirality or chiral purity. Lysine decapeptides enhance RPR function by promoting holoenzyme assembly through primer-template docking, accelerate RPR evolution, and allow RPR-catalysed RNA synthesis at near physiological (≥1 mM) Mg2+ concentrations, enabling templated RNA synthesis within membranous protocells. Our results outline how compositionally simple, mixed-chirality peptides may have augmented the functional potential of early RNAs and promoted the emergence of the first protocells.

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