The Fidelity of Template-Directed Oligonucleotide Ligation and the Inevitability of Polymerase Function
The first living systems may have employed template-directed oligonucleotide ligation for replication. The utility of oligonucleotide ligation as a mechanism for the origin and evolution of life is in part dependent on its fidelity. We have devised a method for evaluating ligation fidelity in which ligation substrates are selected from random sequence libraries. The fidelities of chemical and enzymatic ligation are compared under a variety of conditions. While reaction conditions can be found that promote high fidelity copying, departure from these conditions leads to error-prone copying. In particular, ligation reactions with shorter oligonucleotide substrates are less efficient but more faithful. These results support a model for origins in which there was selective pressure for template-directed oligonucleotide ligation to be gradually supplanted by mononucleotide polymerization.