Owing to their ability to encapsulate biomolecules, complex coacervates formed by associative phase separation of oppositely charged polyelectrolytes have been postulated as prebiotic nonmembranous compartments (NMCs). Recent studies show that NMCs sequester RNA and enhance ribozyme reactions, a critical tenet of the RNA World Hypothesis. As RNA is negatively charged, it is expected to interact with polycationic coacervate components. The molecular basis for how identity and concentration of polyanionic components of complex coacervates affect ribozyme catalysis remains unexplored. We report here a general mechanism wherein diverse polyanions enhance ribozyme catalysis in complex coacervates. By competing for unproductive RNA-polycation interactions, polyanions enhance ribozyme reaction more than 12-fold. The generality of our findings is supported by similar behavior in three polyanions - polycarboxylates, polysulfates, and polysulfates/carboxylates - as well as two different ribozymes, the hammerhead and hairpin. These results reveal potential roles for polyanions in prebiotic chemistry and extant biology.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Medicine