Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 84, Issue 4, pp 153–158 | Cite as

Autocatalytic Sets and RNA Secondary Structure

  • Wim HordijkEmail author
Original Article


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.


Origin of life RNA world Autocatalytic sets RNA secondary structure 



The author thanks the KLI Klosterneuburg for financial support in the form of a fellowship, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions to improve the original manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition ResearchKlosterneuburgAustria

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