A new scenario for prebiotic formation of nucleic acid oligomers is presented. Peptide catalysis is applied to achieve condensation of activated RNA monomers into short RNA chains. As catalysts, L-dipeptides containing a histidine residue, primarily Ser-His, were used. Reactions were carried out in self-organised environment, a water-ice eutectic phase, with low concentrations of reactants. Incubation periods up to 30 days resulted in the formation of short oligomers of RNA. During the oligomerisation, an active intermediate (dipeptide-mononucleotide) is produced, which is the reactive species. Details of the mechanism and kinetics, which were elucidated with a set of control experiments, further establish that the imidazole side chain of a histidine at the carboxyl end of the dipeptide plays a crucial role in the catalysis. These results suggest that this oligomerisation catalysis occurs by a transamination mechanism. Because peptides are much more likely products of spontaneous condensation than nucleotide chains, their potential as catalysts for the formation of RNA is interesting from the origin-of-life perspective. Finally, the formation of the dipeptide-mononucleotide intermediate and its significance for catalysis might also be viewed as the tell-tale signs of a new example of organocatalysis.
Chembiochem, 2013, Vol 14, Issue 2, p. 217-223
RNA formation; Peptides; Origin of Life; Nucleotides; catalysts