1. Biochemistry and Chemical Biology
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A reverse transcriptase ribozyme

  1. Gerald F Joyce  Is a corresponding author
  2. Biswajit Samanta
  1. The Salk Institute, United States
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Cite this article as: eLife 2017;6:e31153 doi: 10.7554/eLife.31153


A highly evolved RNA polymerase ribozyme was found to also be capable of functioning as a reverse transcriptase, an activity that has never been demonstrated before for RNA. This activity is thought to have been crucial for the transition from RNA to DNA genomes during the early history of life on Earth, when it similarly could have arisen as a secondary function of an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. The reverse transcriptase ribozyme can incorporate all four dNTPs and can generate products containing up to 32 deoxynucleotides. It is likely that this activity could be improved through evolution, ultimately enabling the synthesis of complete DNA genomes. DNA is much more stable compared to RNA and thus provides a larger and more secure repository for genetic information.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Gerald F Joyce

    The Salk Institute, La Jolla, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-0603-2874
  2. Biswajit Samanta

    The Salk Institute, La Jolla, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.


National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NNX14AK15G)

  • Gerald F Joyce

Simons Foundation (287624)

  • Gerald F Joyce

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Andrew D Ellington, University of Texas at Austin, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: August 10, 2017
  2. Accepted: September 26, 2017
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: September 26, 2017 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: November 1, 2017 (version 2)


© 2017, Joyce & Samanta

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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