Some bacterial cells can swim, morph into new forms and even become dangerously virulent - all without initial involvement of DNA. Yale University researchers describe July 18 in the journal Science how bacteria accomplish this amazing feat - and in doing so provide a glimpse of what the earliest forms of life on Earth may have looked like.
To initiate many important functions, bacteria sometimes depend entirely upon ancient forms of RNA, once viewed simply as the chemical intermediary between DNA's instruction manual and the creation of proteins, said Ronald Breaker , the Henry Ford II Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale and senior author of the study.
Proteins carry out almost all of life's cellular functions today, but many scientists like Breaker believe this was not always the case and have found many examples in which RNA plays a surprisingly large role in regulating cellular activity. The Science study illustrates that - in bacteria, at least - proteins are not always necessary to spur a host of fundamental cellular changes, a process Breaker believes was common on Earth some 4 billion years ago, well before DNA existed. ... Bacterial use of RNA to trigger major changes without the involvement of proteins resolves one of the questions about the origin of life: If proteins are needed to carry out life's functions and DNA is needed to make proteins, how did DNA arise? - read the full article on science daily