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RNA in evolution
- Niles Lehman
Article first published online: 16 JUL 2010
Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: RNA
Volume 1, Issue 2, pages 202–213, September/October 2010
RNA has played a variety of roles in the evolutionary history of life on the Earth. While this molecule was once considered a poor cousin of the more influential polymers in the cell, namely DNA and proteins, a string of important discoveries over the last 50 years has revealed that RNA may in fact be the cornerstone of biological function. In particular, the finding that RNA can be catalytic, and thus possess both a genotype and a phenotype, has forced us to consider the possibility that life’s origins began with RNA, and that the subsequent diversification of life is aptly described as a string of innovations by RNA to adapt to a changing environment. Some of these adaptations include riboswitches, ribonucleoproteins (RNPs), RNA editing, and RNA interference (RNAi). Although many of these functions may seem at first glance to be recent evolutionary developments, it may be the case that all of their catalytic activities trace their roots back to a primordial ‘RNA World’ some four billion years ago, and that RNA’s diversity has a continuous thread that pervades life from its very origins. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.