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Title: Potential prebiotic roles of (amino-)acylation in the synthesis and function of RNA
Author: Chan, Christopher K. W.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2013
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The Sutherland group recently demonstrated that from a mixture of oligoribonucleotide-2'- or 3'-phosphates the latter is chemoselectively acetylated. This is shown to mediate a template-directed ligation to give predominantly 3',5'-linked RNA that is acetylated at the ligation junction (acetyl-RNA). It was suggested that RNA emerged prebiotically via acetyl-RNA and also is proposed to have favourable genotypic properties due to greater propensity to form duplex structure. To study the properties of acetyl-RNA, their synthesis by solid-phase chemistry was required and described is the design of a 2'/3'-O-acetyl orthogonal protecting group strategy. Key to the orthogonal protecting group strategy is the use of (2-cyanoethoxy)carbonyl for the protection of the nucleobase exocyclic amines and a photolabile solid-phase linker group that allowed partial on-column deprotection. The synthesis of the 2'/3'-O-acetyl and 2'/3'-O-TBDMS phosphoramidites, in addition to preparation of a photolabile solid-phase support, are described. With the materials to hand the procedures for an automated synthesis of acetyl-RNA were optimised and several acetyl-RNA oligonucleotides were synthesised. The duplex stability of acetyl-RNA with up to four sites of 2'-O-acetylation were assessed by UV melting curve analysis. Remarkably, the acetyl groups caused a consistent decrease in Tm of between 3.0-3.2 °C. Thermodynamic parameters indicated a decrease in duplex stability that was consistent with a decrease in hydration of the minor groove resulting in a reduction of the stabilising hydrogen bonding network. The stability of a tetraloop was also found to decrease on acetylation. The acetylated- tetraloop it is able to form duplex at lower concentrations than the natural tetraloop. Additionally, it is more stable at high concentrations, indicating that acetyl-RNA favours duplex over other secondary structure. These properties are considered to give acetyl-RNA competitive advantage for their non-enzymatic replication. Aminoacylation of RNA is an important process in modern biology but the intermediacy of aminoacyl-adenylates is considered to be prebiotically implausible. A potentially prebiotic aminoacylation of nucleoside-3'-phosphates, selective for the 2'-hydroxyl, is presented. However, it was thought the aminoacylation yields could be improved and so a search for an alternative activator was conducted. Oligoribonucleotide-3'-phosphates were exposed to the aminoacylation conditions and selective aminoacylation at only the 2'-hydroxyl of the 3'-end was observed. In particular, the aminoacylation of a trimer lends support to Sutherland’s theory of a linked origin of RNA and coded peptide synthesis.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Prebiotic chemistry ; Origins of life ; RNA World ; Solid-phase synthesis ; UV melting curves ; Aminoacylation