Lipid vesicles chaperone an encapsulated RNA aptamer

The organization of molecules into cells is believed to have been critical for the emergence of living systems. Early protocells likely consisted of RNA functioning inside vesicles made of simple lipids. However, little is known about how encapsulation would affect the activity and folding of RNA. Here we find that confinement of the malachite green RNA aptamer inside fatty acid vesicles increases binding affinity and locally stabilizes the bound conformation of the RNA. The vesicle effectively ‘chaperones’ the aptamer, consistent with an excluded volume mechanism due to confinement. Protocellular organization thereby leads to a direct benefit for the RNA. Coupled with previously described mechanisms by which encapsulated RNA aids membrane growth, this effect illustrates how the membrane and RNA might cooperate for mutual benefit. Encapsulation could thus increase RNA fitness and the like- lihood that functional sequences would emerge during the origin of life.

Ranajay Saha, Samuel Verbanic and Irene A. Chen
Nature Communications
Volume: 9
Number: 2313
Pages: 1-11
Date: June, 2018
ICB Affiliated Authors: Irene A Chen