5-Prime | Ribozymes
1. What's a ribozyme? It is a catalytic RNA molecule. That discovery won the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for Tom Cech and Sidney Altman. Eight classes of ribozymes have now been identified, including seven that modify the nucleic acid backbone: hammerhead, hairpin, HDV (hepatitis delta virus), ribonuclease P, group I intron, group II intron, and VS ribozyme. The eighth type, the ribosome's peptidyl transferase center, builds peptide bonds.
2. What's all the fuss about? Two things, really. First, some researchers believe that the predecessor of the current DNA-RNA-protein world was an RNA world, in which RNA encoded both information, like DNA does, and function, as protein does. Ribozyme researchers hope to gain a glimpse of what that RNA world was like by studying ribozymes. Second, a number of researchers have had success using "in vitro evolution" to derive novel ribozyme activities.
3. Novel ribozyme activities? How...