The 1981 discovery of ribozymes showed RNA can be both genetic material (like DNA) and a biological catalyst (like enzymes). This led to the RNA world hypothesis, in which RNA acts in the evolution of prebiotic self-replicating systems.
Investigators studying the origin of life have produced ribozymes in the laboratory that can catalyze their own synthesis under certain conditions, such as an RNA polymerase ribozyme. Improved variants of the "Round-18" polymerase ribozyme have been developed. "B6.61" is able to add up to 20 nucleotides to a primer template in 24 hours, until it decomposes by cleavage of its phosphodiester bonds. The "tC19Z" ribozyme can add up to 95 nucleotides with great accuracy.
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- Woese, Carl 1967. The genetic code. New York: Harper and Row.
- The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1989 was awarded to Thomas R. Cech and Sidney Altman "for their discovery of catalytic properties of RNA".