Public Release:  Just like old times: Generating RNA molecules in water

Appearing in the Nov. 27, 2009, issue (Vol. 284, No. 48) of JBC

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

A key question in the origin of biological molecules like RNA and DNA is how they first came together billions of years ago from simple precursors. Now, in a study appearing in this week's JBC, researchers in Italy have reconstructed one of the earliest evolutionary steps yet: generating long chains of RNA from individual subunits using nothing but warm water.

Many researchers believe that RNA was one of the first biological molecules present, before DNA and proteins; however, there has been little success in recreating the formation on RNA from simple "prebiotic" molecules that likely were present on primordial earth billions of years ago.

Now, Ernesto Di Mauro and colleagues found that ancient molecules called cyclic nucleotides can merge together in water and form polymers over 100 nucleotides long in water ranging from 40-90 °C -similar to water temperatures on ancient Earth.

Cyclic nucleotides like cyclic-AMP are very similar to the nucleotides that make up individual pieces of DNA or RNA (A, T, G and C), except that they form an extra chemical bond and assume a ring-shaped structure. That extra bond makes cyclic nucleotides more reactive, though, and thus they were able to join together into long chains at a decent rate (about 200 hours to reach 100 nucleotides long).

This finding is exciting as cyclic nucleotides themselves can be easily formed from simple chemicals like formamide, thus making them plausible prebiotic compounds present during primordial times. Thus, this study may be revealing how the first bits of genetic information were created.


From the JBC article: Generation of Long RNA Chains in Water" by Giovanna Costanzo, Samanta Pino, Fabiana Ciciriello and Ernesto Di Mauro

Article link:

Corresponding Authors: Ernesto Di Mauro, Department of Genetics and Molecular Biology, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy; Tel: +39.06.49912880, E-mail:

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization with over 11,900 members in the United States and internationally. Most members teach and conduct research at colleges and universities. Others conduct research in various government laboratories, nonprofit research institutions and industry. The Society's student members attend undergraduate or graduate institutions.

Founded in 1906, the Society is based in Bethesda, Maryland, on the campus of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The Society's purpose is to advance the science of biochemistry and molecular biology through publication of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the Journal of Lipid Research, and Molecular and Cellular Proteomics, organization of scientific meetings, advocacy for funding of basic research and education, support of science education at all levels, and promoting the diversity of individuals entering the scientific work force.

For more information about ASBMB, see the Society's Web site at

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.