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RNA World: Repeated Downfalls, Repeated Resurrections

Cornelius Hunter
Image credit: Brian Gage.

We’ve long since lost track of how many times the RNA World hypothesis — which states that life originated from an RNA enzyme-genome combination rather than from DNA — failed only to be once again resurrected, but we do know this crazy idea will, for a long time to come, continue to be cited as “good solid” evidence for evolution. This despite new research that gives yet another reason for its failure.

There are big problems with the idea that life arose from a random assembly of DNA. Aside from the little problem of generating astronomical amounts of crucial information from, err, random mutations, the resulting DNA doesn’t do anything by itself. That is because proteins are needed to extract said information and do something with it.

A Clever Idea

So, evolutionists came up with the clever idea of using RNA instead of DNA, since RNA can both store genetic information and also do something with it. Of course, this idea still has that little problem of generating the information in the first place. Oh, also, there is precisely zero evidence of any “RNA World” organisms. Now or ever.

There is no organism that does this. There is no organism that does anything like this. There is no controlled, laboratory, version of such a thing. There isn’t even a computer simulation of it, at least in any kind of detail.

Not only does this call the entire idea into question, it also raises another little problem: that if there was this so-called RNA World, then it must have gone away at some point, and neatly transitioned into a DNA world, without leaving a trace. But aside from vague speculation, there is no compelling notion of how this would occur.

A Brief Introduction

This is but a brief introduction to the problems one finds with the RNA World, that have led to its repeated downfall, before its repeated resurrections.

Now, this new research points out the rather inconvenient fact that RNA is too sticky:

But while RNA strands may be good at templating complementary strands, they are not so good at separating from these strands. Modern organisms make enzymes that can force twinned strands of RNA — or DNA — to go their separate ways, thus enabling replication, but it is unclear how this could have been done in a world where enzymes didn’t yet exist.

Amazingly enough, this story was picked up by, of all mags, Popular Mechanics.

Yup. You know you have problems when Popular Mechanics is dissing your evolutionary theory.

A Rather Fundamental Problem

And while one might have thought that this rather fundamental problem would have disqualified the RNA World hypothesis a long time ago — RNA’s “stickiness” was not just discovered yesterday — it turns out that fundamental problems such as this tend to be openly discussed only when a replacement theory is at the ready.

And sure enough, since DNA didn’t work, and perhaps now we can finally say that RNA also didn’t work, perhaps the trick is to combine them. Don’t two wrongs make a right? And so it is: the new research indeed proposes that life got going by using fancy chimeric molecular strands that are part DNA and part RNA.

Well, evolution dodged another bullet. But we think we can at least say that Alexander Oparin’s 1924 prediction that origin-of-life research would be solved “very, very soon” hasn’t quite turned out right.