Ribozymes are RNA molecules that act like enzymes to accelerate chemical reactions. They may be relics of an ancient ‘RNA world’, where RNA performed both informational and catalytic functions before proteins took over the latter role. As enzymes, RNA molecules are rather poor prospects, with a paucity of functional groups, yet in a limited set of reactions they achieve respectable rate enhancements. Explaining this is a significant challenge to the biological chemist, and the area has seldom been free from controversy. Some general conclusions are, however, now emerging. RNA achieves a lot from a very limited resource, from which some general insights into biocatalysis may emerge.

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