Let Jack Szostak do the explaining:
Paul Rand: Okay. Help translate that and help me understand the meaning of what the RNA world hypothesis is.
Jack Szostak: I mean, it’s almost in some sense, silly to call it a hypothesis. It’s pretty firmly-
Paul Rand: Established?
Jack Szostak: … established, yeah.
Paul Rand: It gives it a bit of gravitas though, by calling it that.
Yeah, yeah. It’s very simple, it‘s just the idea that the most primitive cells, the primordial cells were based on RNA, which played the role of the genetic material and they used RNA to carry out biochemical functions to catalyze reactions. The smoking gun is the cellular machine, the ribosome, right, which it turns out it’s built partly out of RNA and partly out of proteins, but it’s the RNA part that actually makes new proteins, so RNA makes all the proteins in our bodies and every cell, so it makes sense that RNA came first. All we have to do is figure out how something as complicated as RNA came to exist on the early Earth.
Paul Rand: This is what Szostak’s lab focuses almost entirely on: How RNA came into existence.
For a more detailed treatment, see
There’s apparently a considerable number of people who mistakenly think the RNA world hypothesis is a hypothesis that life began with a self-replicating RNA molecule. That is actually not a necessary implication of the evidence that ancestral life used RNA as the primary genetic material and to carry out various biological functions today performed mostly by protein.
Exactly and its why they form strawman arguments against it.
Yeah! I was also under that false impression until discussing this in the thread on LUCA, haha.
@Michael_Okoko, thanks for posting the exchange with Jack Szostak. It’s great to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.
I actually got to hear Szostak give a talk at UT Southwestern back in 2012 or so. Very neat guy. Apparently I didn’t pay close enough attention though
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