RNA-catalyzed RNA replication is widely believed to have supported a primordial biology. However, RNA catalysis is dependent upon RNA folding, and this yields structures that can block replication of such RNAs. To address this apparent paradox we have re-examined the building blocks used for RNA replication. We report RNA-catalysed RNA synthesis on structured templates when using trinucleotide triphosphates (triplets) as substrates, catalysed by a general and accurate triplet polymerase ribozyme that emerged from in vitro evolution as a mutualistic RNA heterodimer. The triplets cooperatively invaded and unraveled even highly stable RNA secondary structures, and support non-canonical primer-free and bidirectional modes of RNA synthesis and replication. Triplet substrates thus resolve a central incongruity of RNA replication, and here allow the ribozyme to synthesise its own catalytic subunit '+' and '-' strands in segments and assemble them into a new active ribozyme.
All data generated during this study and collated sequencing results are included in the manuscript and its supporting files. Source data files have been provided for Figures 1-4, 8 and 9.
- Philipp Holliger
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.
- Anna Marie Pyle, Yale University, United States
© 2018, Attwater et al.
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.
Did life on Earth start with RNA?
Lactate oxidation with NAD+ as electron acceptor is a highly endergonic reaction. Some anaerobic bacteria overcome the energetic hurdle by flavin-based electron bifurcation/confurcation (FBEB/FBEC) using a lactate dehydrogenase (Ldh) in concert with the electron-transferring proteins EtfA and EtfB. The electron cryo-microscopically characterized (Ldh-EtfAB)2 complex of Acetobacterium woodii at 2.43 Å resolution consists of a mobile EtfAB shuttle domain located between the rigid central Ldh and the peripheral EtfAB base units. The FADs of Ldh and the EtfAB shuttle domain contact each other thereby forming the D (dehydrogenation-connected) state. The intermediary Glu37 and Glu139 may harmonize the redox potentials between the FADs and the pyruvate/lactate pair crucial for FBEC. By integrating Alphafold2 calculations a plausible novel B (bifurcation-connected) state was obtained allowing electron transfer between the EtfAB base and shuttle FADs. Kinetic analysis of enzyme variants suggests a correlation between NAD+ binding site and D-to-B-state transition implicating a 75° rotation of the EtfAB shuttle domain. The FBEC inactivity when truncating the ferredoxin domain of EtfA substantiates its role as redox relay. Lactate oxidation in Ldh is assisted by the catalytic base His423 and a metal center. On this basis, a comprehensive catalytic mechanism of the FBEC process was proposed.