The recent launch of James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has drawn significant attention in astronomy, and perhaps also in any human beings that have a deep interest in the origin of universe and life, this includes layman as me.
Stunned by the ultra deep filed image of the universe that has been achieved by Hubble telescope, there are so much more to expect from JWST… (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Webb_Space_Telescope)
As we see in the ultra deep image of universe (a tiny patch of dark area of the sky), we see these galaxies and stars not as they are today, but as they were millions and billions of years ago. This allows us the opportunity to look further back in time as we look farther into space.
This is amazing, as we can see all phases in cosmic history, deducting the evolution of galaxies as they develop back in time. This is about the origin of universe, galaxies, stars, planets and life.
Exploring these stunning images of space also brings analogy to our own research, which is about the exploration of RNAs, and deep back into the ‘RNA World hypothesis’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RNA_world
What we are currently studying in the RNA universe (now I prefer to call it universe) are just like looking into a teeny-tiny patch of the sky of the space, yet by looking (and thinking) deep into what we observe can indeed raise key questions that bring us back into time – the early phases of life on earth when RNA rules…
Just an example, when we look into various RNA modifications that are constantly found in certain ancient RNAs (e.g. tRNAs), a series of questions rises,
“what are their functions on current tRNAs? and what are their functions back in time?”
“how are these patterns fixed on these RNAs over evolution, replicated over billions of times?”
“what makes them at the first place, if not random”
“What is the driving force behind such pattern?”
Fully addressing these questions need to see through evolution in real-time, which is apparently beyond our ability. But as a human being, we can always imagine… and our version of deduction would be that the RNA modifications on ancient RNAs (such as tRNA, rRNA and snRNA) may represent the vestiges of the RNA world at a time when RNA modifications were maximally exploited to increase the functional diversity of ribozymes, before being replaced by the emergence of functionally more versatile protein-based enzymes (adapted from our paper Trends Biochem Sci 2021). In other words, we hypothesize that RNA modifications may act as an integral part of the ribozyme in conducting their activity (such as replicating themselves), and the RNA modifications are added by ribozymes when back in time …
Whether we can make such a scenario reappear? Like building a Jurassic Park? That, is a very interesting question……