Abstract - A crucial transition in the origin of life was the emergence of an informational polymer capable of self-replication and its compartmentalization within protocellular structures. We show that the physicochemical properties of ice, a simple medium widespread on a temperate early Earth, could have mediated this transition prior to the advent of membraneous protocells. Ice not only promotes the activity of an RNA polymerase ribozyme but also protects it from hydrolytic degradation, enabling the synthesis of exceptionally long replication products. Ice furthermore relieves the dependence of RNA replication on prebiotically implausible substrate concentrations, while providing quasicellular compartmentalization within the intricate microstructure of the eutectic phase. Eutectic ice phases had previously been shown to promote the de novo synthesis of nucleotide precursors, as well as the condensation of activated nucleotides into random RNA oligomers. Our results support a wider role for ice as a predisposed environment, promoting all the steps from prebiotic synthesis to the emergence of RNA self-replication and precellular Darwinian evolution.
Via Nature Communications - Click source for the full paper.