Molecular midwives: The solution to strand cyclization in the pre-RNA world

In recent years, the RNA-world hypothesis has become the leading theory for the origins of life. Few researchers, though, believe RNA could have spontaneously appeared out of the primordial soup. Regardless of the speculation about what could have preceded RNA, any origins of life theory would have one seemingly insurmountable obstacle: strand cyclization. Due to the flexibility of RNA-like or DNA-like polymers, a strand growing in solution would not grow much longer than 4 units, which is a problem because genes are usually hundreds, if not thousands, of units long. However, intercalator "planar molecules that slip between base pairs" increase the stiffness of the polymer thereby promoting linear growth. Using tetra-nucleotides as the model system and varying intercalators, we show that intercalators are the solution to strand cyclization.
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