Scientists are saying that a change in the structure of the thing called DNA may be the reason it is the building block of life.
Eons ago when the earth was still not fully formed and biology was just taking off, the ancient ancestors of today’s living animals were self-replicating strands of RNA.
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RNA thus was the precursor to life. However, later on this RNA was shifted to the sidelines and in its place came along a new cousin that was termed DNA.
How did DNA take over the crown from RNA?
That is the question. Via a study of the atoms that compose DNA, published in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, a biochemist has managed to come up with an answer to that difficult question. DNA is able to undergo shapeshifting which is an impossibility in the case of RNA.
Thus DNA has more resilience and can perform the functions of life in a more befitting manner than RNA. The real cause of DNA’s success is the Hoogsteen base pair. This was discovered in 1960. It was such an anomaly that it was seldom mentioned in textbooks.
About half a decade ago, some scientists looked at DNA inside a nuclear magnetic resonance machine (NMR). This allowed them to visualize what took place at the level of the molecules.
What they discovered was that the nucleic acid base pairs that form the staircase of the double helix of DNA were constantly shapeshifting between two types. For the majority of the time, they are constantly connected to each other. Yet 1% of them form a Hoogsteen pair. In these strange and weird pairs, one of the nucleic acids is flipped in the opposite direction. This causes the double helical structure to undergo a kink.
It all of a sudden becomes a dynamic thing. Also the molecules engage in a sort of dance. Hoogsteen pairs also form during external damage such as from cancer.
The scientists now wanted to know whether RNA would behave in a similar manner. To their shock, when the experiment was carried out with RNA, it started to virtually unravel and explode before their very eyes.
RNA molecules cannot form Hoogsteen pairs. So they fall apart at the seams. Thus RNA would not have been such an ideal substance which could serve as the chemical basis of life.
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Only DNA is suitable for being the basic blueprint and building block of life. Although much of this is still a matter of speculation, it is a good pointer in the right direction for future research regarding RNA and DNA.