Sunday, December 23, 2007

Evolution of DNA metabolism

DNA contains the genetic information that allows all modern living things to function, grow and reproduce. However, it is unclear how long in the 4-billion-year history of life DNA has performed this function, as it has been proposed that the earliest forms of life may have used RNA as their genetic material.[90][102] RNA may have acted as the central part of early cell metabolism as it can both transmit genetic information and carry out catalysis as part of ribozymes.[103] This ancient RNA world where nucleic acid would have been used for both catalysis and genetics may have influenced the evolution of the current genetic code based on four nucleotide bases. This would occur since the number of unique bases in such an organism is a trade-off between a small number of bases increasing replication accuracy and a large number of bases increasing the catalytic efficiency of ribozymes.[104]

Unfortunately, there is no direct evidence of ancient genetic systems, as recovery of DNA from most fossils is impossible. This is because DNA will survive in the environment for less than one million years and slowly degrades into short fragments in solution.[105] Although claims for older DNA have been made, most notably a report of the isolation of a viable bacterium from a salt crystal 250-million years old,[106] these claims are controversial and have been disputed.[107][108]

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