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2003 Annual Science Report

University of Colorado, Boulder Reporting  |  JUL 2002 – JUN 2003

Initiation of an RNA World

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
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Field Sites

Project Progress

What is the smallest useful ribonucleic acid (RNA) population? This question is a key to the accessibility of an RNA world, in that RNA is a very difficult molecule to make under primordial conditions. Therefore the fewer molecules needed to provide for the evolution of biological functions, the easier it would be to imagine their occurrence.

In the last year, we have shown theoretically in three ways (two calculations and one computer simulation) that the amount of RNA needed for evolution of an RNA cell (a ribocyte) is likely to be ten or twelve orders of ten smaller than used in all modern selection experiments. Therefore the RNA world is immensely more accessible (and its existence as a real intermediate in the evolution of life on Earth is more probable) than has been usually supposed. This previously unrealized 1010 to 1012 – fold advantage must now be tested experimentally.