New evidence shows the first building blocks of life on Earth may have been messier than previously thought

phys.org | 1/22/2020 | Staff
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When the Earth was born, it was a mess. Meteors and lightning storms likely bombarded the planet's surface where nothing except lifeless chemicals could survive. How life formed in this chemical mayhem is a mystery billions of years old. Now, a new study offers evidence that the first building blocks may have matched their environment, starting out messier than previously thought.

Life is built with three major components: RNA and DNA—the genetic code that, like construction managers, program how to run and reproduce cells—and proteins, the workers that carry out their instructions. Most likely, the first cells had all three pieces. Over time, they grew and replicated, competing in Darwin's game to create the diversity of life today: bacteria, fungi, wolves, whales and humans.

RNA - DNA - Proteins - Partners - Theory

But first, RNA, DNA or proteins had to form without their partners. One common theory, known as the "RNA World" hypothesis, proposes that because RNA, unlike DNA, can self-replicate, that molecule may have come first. While recent studies discovered how the molecule's nucleotides—the A, C, G and U that form its backbone—could have formed from chemicals available on early Earth, some scientists believe the process may not have been such a straightforward path.

"Years ago, the naive idea that pools of pure concentrated ribonucleotides might be present on the primitive Earth was mocked by Leslie Orgel as 'the Molecular Biologist's Dream,'" said Jack Szostak, a Nobel Prize Laureate, professor of chemistry and chemical biology and genetics at Harvard University, and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "But how relatively modern homogeneous RNA could emerge from a heterogeneous mixture of different starting materials was unknown."

Paper - Journal - Chemical - Society - Szostak

In a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Szostak and colleagues present a new model for how RNA could have emerged. Instead of a clean path, he and his team...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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