Template-directed RNA polymerization and enhanced ribozyme catalysis inside membraneless compartments formed by coacervates

Raghav R. Poudyal, Rebecca M. Guth-Metzler, Andrew J. Veenis, Erica A. Frankel, Christine D. Keating, Philip C. Bevilacqua

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

150 Scopus citations


Membraneless compartments, such as complex coacervates, have been hypothesized as plausible prebiotic micro-compartments due to their ability to sequester RNA; however, their compatibility with essential RNA World chemistries is unclear. We show that such compartments can enhance key prebiotically-relevant RNA chemistries. We demonstrate that template-directed RNA polymerization is sensitive to polycation identity, with polydiallyldimethylammonium chloride (PDAC) outperforming poly(allylamine), poly(lysine), and poly(arginine) in polycation/RNA coacervates. Differences in RNA diffusion rates between PDAC/RNA and oligoarginine/RNA coacervates imply distinct biophysical environments. Template-directed RNA polymerization is relatively insensitive to Mg 2+ concentration when performed in PDAC/RNA coacervates as compared to buffer, even enabling partial rescue of the reaction in the absence of magnesium. Finally, we show enhanced activities of multiple nucleic acid enzymes including two ribozymes and a deoxyribozyme, underscoring the generality of this approach, in which functional nucleic acids like aptamers and ribozymes, and in some cases key cosolutes localize within the coacervate microenvironments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number490
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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