CRC 235 Emergence of Life

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Ribozyme activity modulates the physical properties of RNA–peptide coacervates

K. K. Le Vay 2023 eLife


Kristian Kyle Le Vay, Elia Salibi, Basusree Ghosh, TY Dora Tang, Hannes Mutschler



Condensed coacervate phases are now understood to be important features of modern cell biology, as well as valuable protocellular models in origin-of-life studies and synthetic biology. In each of these fields, the development of model systems with varied and tuneable material properties is of great importance for replicating properties of life. Here, we develop a ligase ribozyme system capable of concatenating short RNA fragments into long chains. Our results show that the formation of coacervate microdroplets with the ligase ribozyme and poly(L-lysine) enhances ribozyme rate and yield, which in turn increases the length of the anionic polymer component of the system and imparts specific physical properties to the droplets. Droplets containing active ribozyme sequences resist growth, do not wet or spread on unpassivated surfaces, and exhibit reduced transfer of RNA between droplets when compared to controls containing inactive sequences. These altered behaviours, which stem from RNA sequence and catalytic activity, constitute a specific phenotype and potential fitness advantage, opening the door to selection and evolution experiments based on a genotype–phenotype linkage.