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Harold S Bernhardt and Warren P Tate., Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 2015 vol. 3 p. 95.
Why does the contemporary ribosome contain so much RNA? Francis Crick first asked this question back in 1968, and he thought the reason might be that rRNA and tRNA "were part of the primitive machinery for protein synthesis". Remarkably, this was more than a decade before both the discovery of catalytic RNA and the proposal of an ancient RNA world predating the advent of DNA and complex proteins. If the early ribosome was simply an ‘RNA machine’ it would seem likely in the context of current molecular biology that the peptide bond–forming part of ribosomal RNA at least could be replaced by a catalytically-superior protein enzyme. Even by the time of Crick’s 1968 reflections on the persistence of RNA it had been demonstrated that DNA could function as a 'message' replacing mRNA for protein synthesis. A shift from RNA to protein is indeed seen today in mitochondrial ribosomes, and here ribosomal proteins have assumed some of the roles normally carried out by RNA. Nevertheless, decoding and catalysis are RNA functions still retained in these mitochondrial ribosomes. In this paper, while acknowledging that RNA has resisted being replaced by protein in the contemporary ribosome, we examine the likelihood of the future evolution of a protein-only ribosome, or as we have dubbed it – a 'synthosome'.