Autocatalytic sets and RNA secondary structure
Journal of Molecular Evolution, in press, 2017.
The dominant paradigm in origin of life research is that of an RNA world. However, despite experimental progress towards the spontaneous formation of RNA, the RNA world hypothesis still has its problems. Here, we introduce a novel computational model of chemical reaction networks based on RNA secondary structure and analyze the existence of autocatalytic sub-networks in random instances of this model, by combining two well-established computational tools. Our main results are that (i) autocatalytic sets are highly likely to exist, even for very small reaction networks and short RNA sequences, and (ii) sequence diversity seems to be a more important factor in the formation of autocatalytic sets than sequence length. These findings could shed new light on the probability of the spontaneous emergence of an RNA world as a network of mutually collaborative ribozymes.