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template-assisted ligation

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7/28/2015 9:06:12 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Another possible model of how simplified molecules became self replicating prior to evolving into the long chain molecules we know of today. An excerpt of the Science Daily article.

Self-replication is a complicated process -- DNA, the basis for life on earth today, requires a coordinated cohort of enzymes and other molecules in order to duplicate itself. Early self-replicating systems were surely more rudimentary, but their existence in the first place is still somewhat baffling.

Tkachenko and Maslov have proposed a new model that shows how the earliest self-replicating molecules could have worked. Their model switches between "day" phases, where individual polymers float freely, and "night" phases, where they join together to form longer chains via template-assisted ligation. The phases are driven by cyclic changes in environmental conditions, such as temperature, pH, or salinity, which throw the system out of equilibrium and induce the polymers to either come together or drift apart.

According to their model, during the night cycles, multiple short polymers bond to longer polymer strands, which act as templates. These longer template strands hold the shorter polymers in close enough proximity to each other that they can ligate to form a longer strand -- a complementary copy of at least part of the template. Over time, the newly synthesized polymers come to dominate, giving rise to an autocatalytic and self-sustaining system of molecules large enough to potentially encode blueprints for life, the model predicts

Polymers can also link together without the aid of a template, but the process is somewhat more random -- a chain that forms in one generation will not necessarily be carried over into the next. Template-assisted ligation, on the other hand, is a more faithful means of preserving information, as the polymer chains of one generation are used to build the next. Thus, a model based on template-assisted ligation combines the lengthening of polymer chains with their replication, providing a potential mechanism for heritability.