The role of RNA in the evolution of life

One of the fundamental issues facing biology is the question of our origins. Despite the fact that time and evolution have erased much information about early life on earth, a number of fascinating clues remain within cells that have led to the proposal of an “RNA world” hypothesis – the premise that RNA (ribonucleic acid) was once the dominant biological catalyst, capable of important metabolic functions that are currently performed by protein enzymes. Dr. Peter Unrau is exploring the chemical versatility and evolutionary potential of RNA. He has been examining the ability of RNA to replicate independent of protein. Along with his chemical interests in RNA, he is also exploring the processing of RNA by eukaryotes (cells with a distinct membrane-bound nucleus) and studying the interaction of small RNA processing and viral replication in plants and humans.