Science

Scientists May Have Solved The Mystery Of The Origin Of Life

When it comes to the origin of life on the Earth, it's really a set of paradoxes. In order for life to have happened, there had to be some kind of genetic molecule like DNA or RNA that was capable of passing the blueprints of itself, of life, on. What was also required were fatty lipids, which provide membranes for cells to hold their contents in. So it's kind of a chicken and egg type problem.

But now researchers think they may have solved these paradoxes. Chemists are reporting that a pair of simple compounds, which would have been more than abundant in the environment of early Earth, can give rise to simple reactions that produce three major classes of biomolecules: nucleic acids, amino acids, and lipids. All three are needed for life. It's not proof of how life started, but it's an indication of how it may have.

“This is a very important paper,” says Jack Szostak, a molecular biologist and origin-of-life researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who was not affiliated with the current research. “It proposes for the first time a scenario by which almost all of the essential building blocks for life could be assembled in one geological setting.”

Scientists have believed for a long time that certain types of biomolecules formed first. Some believe that RNA came first. RNA can pass along its genetic information and serves as a protein-like chemical catalyst that speeds up some reactions. Metabolism-first proponents believe that simple metal catalysts may have created the organic soup that spawned all life.

For this study, Sutherland and his colleagues worked backward from those chemicals to see if they could find the route to RNA from even simpler materials, and they succeeded. In the current issue if Nature Chemistry, the team reports that it created nucleic acid precursors starting with just hydrogen cyanide (HCN), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and ultraviolet (UV) light. Sutherland says that the conditions that produced nucleic acid precursors also started materials that are required to make lipids and amino acids. So a single source reaction could have given rise to all of life's building blocks at the same time, thus solving the life paradox.

What do you think? Is this an adequate explanation for the origins of life?

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