Researchers find that the amino acid arginine may have played a more important role in the chemical origins of life

phys.org | 2/6/2018 | Staff
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Life as we know it originated roughly 3.5 to 4 billion years ago in the form of a prebiotic ("before life") soup of organic molecules that somehow began to replicate themselves and pass along a genetic formula. Or so goes the thinking behind the RNA World, one of the most robust hypotheses of the origin of life.

Researchers at UC Santa Barbara have now found evidence that the amino acid arginine (or its prebiotic world equivalent) may have been a more important ingredient in this soup than previously thought.

People - Arginine - Irene - Chen - Biophysicist

"People tend to think of arginine as not being prebiotic," said Irene Chen, a biophysicist whose research focuses on the chemical origins of life. "They tend to think of the simpler amino acids as being plausible, such as glycine and alanine." Arginine, by contrast, is relatively more complex, and was therefore thought to have entered the game at a later stage.

Primordial Earth, according to the RNA World theory, had the conditions to host several types of biomolecules, including nucleic acids (which become genetic material), amino acids (which eventually link to form the proteins that are responsible for structure and function of cells) and lipids (which store energy and protect cells). Under what circumstances and how these biomolecules worked together is a source of ongoing investigation for researchers of the origins of life.

Investigation - UCSB - Scientists - Dataset - Vitro

For their investigation, the UCSB scientists analyzed a dataset of in vitro evolved complexes of proteins and aptamers (short RNA and DNA molecules that bind to specific target proteins).

"We were looking at the interface for which properties favored binding," said Celia Blanco, a postdoctoral researcher in the Chen Lab, and lead author of a paper that appears in the journal Current Biology. In vitro evolution was an important factor when selecting these evolutionarily independent complexes, she pointed out, to avoid the confounding...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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