Protobionts are systems that are considered to have possibly been the precursors to first cells. If RNA is trapped inside, the system can use the RNA or select for it.
A protobiont is an aggregate of abiotically produced organic molecules surrounded by a membrane or a membrane-like structure. Protobionts exhibit some of the properties associated with life, including simple reproduction, metabolism and excitability, as well as the maintenance of an internal chemical environment different from that of their surroundings. It has been suggested that they are a key step in the origin of life on Earth. Experiments by Sidney W. Fox and Aleksandr Oparin have demonstrated that they may be formed spontaneously, in conditions similar to the environment thought to exist on an early Earth. These experiments formed liposomes and microspheres, which have membrane structure similar to the phospholipid bilayer found in cells.
Nanobes or nanobacteria, being too small to be functional living organisms, may be an example of naturally occurring protobionts.