Creating Prebiotic Sanctuary: Self-Assembling Supramolecular Peptide Structures Bind and Stabilize RNA

Ohad Carny, Ehud Gazit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Any attempt to uncover the origins of life must tackle the known 'blind watchmaker problem'. That is to demonstrate the likelihood of the emergence of a prebiotic system simple enough to be formed spontaneously and yet complex enough to allow natural selection that will lead to Darwinistic evolution. Studies of short aromatic peptides revealed their ability to self-assemble into ordered and stable structures. The unique physical and chemical characteristics of these peptide assemblies point out to their possible role in the origins of life. We have explored mechanisms by which self-assembling short peptides and RNA fragments could interact together and go through a molecular co-evolution, using diphenylalanine supramolecular assemblies as a model system. The spontaneous formation of these self-assembling peptides under prebiotic conditions, through the salt-induced peptide formation (SIPF) pathway was demonstrated. These peptide assemblies possess the ability to bind and stabilize ribonucleotides in a sequence-depended manner, thus increase their relative fitness. The formation of these peptide assemblies is dependent on the homochirality of the peptide monomers: while homochiral peptides (L-Phe-L-Phe and D-Phe-D-Phe) self-assemble rapidly in aqueous environment, heterochiral diastereoisomers (L-Phe-D-Phe and D-Phe-L-Phe) do not tend to self-assemble. This characteristic consists with the homochirality of all living matter. Finally, based on these findings, we propose a model for the role of short self-assembling peptides in the prebiotic molecular evolution and the origin of life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-132
Number of pages12
JournalOrigins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres
Volume41
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2011

Keywords

  • Aromatic interactions
  • Molecular recognition
  • Origin of life
  • RNA
  • Self-assembling peptides
  • Self-association
  • π-π stacking

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