One of the fundamental difficulties when considering the origin of life on Earth is the identification of an emergent system that not only replicated, but also had the capacity to undergo discrete mutation in such a way that following generations might inherit and pass on the mutation. We speculate that the layered double hydroxide (LDH) minerals are plausible candidates for a proto-RNA molecule. We describe a hypothetical LDH-like system which, when intercalated with certain anions, forms crystals with a high degree of internal order giving rise to novel information storage structures in which replication fidelity is maintained, a concept we use to propose an explanation for interstratification in terephthalate LDHs. The external surfaces of these hypothetical crystals provide active sites whose structure and chemistry is dictated by the internal information content of the LDH. Depending on the LDH polytype, the opposing external surfaces of a crystal may give rise to reactive sites that are either complementary or mirror images of each other, and so may be chiral. We also examine similarities between these proposed “proto-RNA” structures and the DNA that encodes the hereditary information in life today, concluding with a hypothetical scenario wherein these proto-RNA molecules predated the putative RNA-world.
Greenwell, H., & Coveney, P. (2006). Layered double hydroxide minerals as possible prebiotic information storage and transfer compounds. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, 36(1), 13-37. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11084-005-2068-2