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posted by martyb on Tuesday November 14 2017, @03:00PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the spark-of-life dept.

Scientists Just Found a Vital Missing Link in The Origins of Life on Earth

Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute in California have identified a molecule capable of performing phosphorylation in water, making it a solid candidate for what has until now been a missing link in the chain from lifeless soup to evolving cells. In the classic chicken and egg conundrum of biology's origins, debate continues to rage over which process kicked off others in order to get to life. Was RNA was[sic] followed by protein structures? Did metabolism spark the whole shebang? And what about the lipids?

No matter what school of abiogenesis you hail from, the production of these various classes of organic molecules requires a process called phosphorylation – getting a group of three oxygens and a phosphorus to attach to other molecules.

Nobody has provided strong evidence in support of any particular agent that might have been responsible for making this happen to prebiotic compounds. Until now. "We suggest a phosphorylation chemistry that could have given rise, all in the same place, to oligonucleotides, oligopeptides, and the cell-like structures to enclose them," says researcher Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy.

Enter diamidophosphate (DAP). Combined with imidazole acting as a catalyst, DAP could have bridged the critical gap from early compounds such as uridine and cytidine. That might not seem overly exciting, but phosphorylating nucleosides like these is a crucial step on the road to building the chains of RNA that could serve as the first primitive genes.

Also at Newsweek. Diamidophosphate.

Phosphorylation, oligomerization and self-assembly in water under potential prebiotic conditions (DOI: 10.1038/nchem.2878) (DX)

Related: Life's First Molecule Was Protein, Not RNA, New Model Suggests

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Life’s First Molecule Was Protein, Not RNA, New Model Suggests 11 comments

From Quanta Magazine: Life's First Molecule Was Protein, Not RNA, New Model Suggests

Proteins have generally taken a back seat to RNA molecules in scientists' speculations about how life on Earth started. Yet a new computational model that describes how early biopolymers could have grown long enough to fold into useful shapes may change that. If it holds up, the model, which is now guiding laboratory experiments for confirmation, could re-establish the reputation of proteins as the original self-replicating biomolecule.

For scientists studying the origin of life, one of the greatest chicken-or-the-egg questions is: Which came first — proteins or nucleic acids like DNA and RNA? Four billion years ago or so, basic chemical building blocks gave rise to longer polymers that had a capacity to self-replicate and to perform functions essential to life: namely, storing information and catalyzing chemical reactions. For most of life's history, nucleic acids have handled the former job and proteins the latter one. Yet DNA and RNA carry the instructions for making proteins, and proteins extract and copy those instructions as DNA or RNA. Which one could have originally handled both jobs on its own?

For decades, the favored candidate has been RNA — particularly since the discovery in the 1980s that RNA can also fold up and catalyze reactions, much as proteins do. Later theoretical and experimental evidence further bolstered the "RNA world" hypothesis that life emerged out of RNA that could catalyze the formation of more RNA.

But RNA is also incredibly complex and sensitive, and some experts are skeptical that it could have arisen spontaneously under the harsh conditions of the prebiotic world. Moreover, both RNA molecules and proteins must take the form of long, folded chains to do their catalytic work, and the early environment would seemingly have prevented strings of either nucleic acids or amino acids from getting long enough.

Chemists Outline How the Citric Acid Cycle Could Have Developed Before Life on Earth 5 comments

Chemists have found a series of chemical reactions that could have led to the first life on Earth:

Chemists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have developed a fascinating new theory for how life on Earth may have begun. Their experiments, described today in the journal Nature Communications, demonstrate that key chemical reactions that support life today could have been carried out with ingredients likely present on the planet four billion years ago.

[...] For the new study, Krishnamurthy and his coauthors, who are all members of the National Science Foundation/National Aeronautics and Space Administration Center for Chemical Evolution, focused on a series of chemical reactions that make up what researchers refer to as the citric acid cycle.

[...] Leaders of the new study started with the chemical reactions first. They wrote the recipe and then determined which molecules present on early Earth could have worked as ingredients. The new study outlines how two non-biological cycles—called the HKG cycle and the malonate cycle—could have come together to kick-start a crude version of the citric acid cycle. The two cycles use reactions that perform the same fundamental chemistry of a-ketoacids and b-ketoacids as in the citric acid cycle. These shared reactions include aldol additions, which bring new source molecules into the cycles, as well as beta and oxidative decarboxylations, which release the molecules as carbon dioxide (CO2).

As they ran these reactions, the researchers found they could produce amino acids in addition to CO2, which are also the end products of the citric acid cycle. The researchers think that as biological molecules like enzymes became available, they could have led to the replacement of non-biological molecules in these fundamental reactions to make them more elaborate and efficient.

Citric acid cycle.

Linked cycles of oxidative decarboxylation of glyoxylate as protometabolic analogs of the citric acid cycle (open, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02591-0) (DX)

Previously: Diamidophosphate (DAP): "Missing Link" for Abiogenesis? (also by The Scripps Research Institute)

Related: Did Life on Earth Start Due to Meteorites Splashing Into Warm Little Ponds?
Life's First Molecule Was Protein, Not RNA, New Model Suggests
Analysis of Microfossils Finds that Microbial Life Existed at Least 3.5 Billion Years Ago

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  • (Score: 0, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14 2017, @03:46PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14 2017, @03:46PM (#596832)

    I just want to point out that this is a really nice article to see, even if there really isn't much to say.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14 2017, @03:57PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14 2017, @03:57PM (#596838)

      Now, you've begun the process of cluttering up the meaningful discourse.

      Next time, just sit their quietly with that dumb look on your face.

      • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14 2017, @07:11PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14 2017, @07:11PM (#596920)

        Next time, just sit their quietly with that dumb look on your face.

        pot: kettle

  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14 2017, @03:54PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14 2017, @03:54PM (#596836)

    When one looks at a massive skyscraper, one sees an incredibly complex system of interdependent parts. It seems inconceivable that it was ever built; it must have popped into existence, fully formed by the miracle of an Intelligent Designer.

    Of course, as we know, that is not the case.

    Rather, the skyscraper was built up slowly, using all manner of intermediate scaffolding and temporary counterweights, which at some point were dismantled, carted off to a landfill, and utterly forgotten.

    The same story is true of biological systems; when people scoff at the notion of something as complex as even a single cell having "spontaneously" emerged from the bubbling broth of a primordial soup, just remind them of the possibility of long-lost, long-forgotten, intermediate support structures.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14 2017, @08:58PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14 2017, @08:58PM (#596978)

      Yeah, I think that the point people miss is that even if it is EXTREMELY unlikely, 5 billion years is a REALLY long time.

      I mean, look how bad the odds are for powerball and there are winners all the time.

  • (Score: 0, Troll) by realDonaldTrump on Tuesday November 14 2017, @05:42PM (1 child)

    by realDonaldTrump (6614) on Tuesday November 14 2017, @05:42PM (#596877) Homepage Journal

    I heard about abiogenesis before. I heard nobody really knows how it works. Why it's happening, even whether it's happening. Nobody knows. But people are starting to find out. And some, I assume, will find out how to use it to speed up creation of oil & gas. Let me tell you, we could use the energy. We could really use it. Because our economy has been growing TREMENDOUSLY. So we need all the energy we can get. #MAGA 🇺🇸

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14 2017, @07:29PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 14 2017, @07:29PM (#596934)

      How else do you think a bunch of hot air could develop into a "precedential" candidate?