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posted by hubie on Friday August 05, @12:54AM   Printer-friendly
from the surprising-reactions dept.

Scientists discover new 'origins of life' chemical reactions:

Four billion years ago, the Earth looked very different than it does today, devoid of life and covered by a vast ocean. Over the course of millions of years, in that primordial soup, life emerged. Researchers have long theorized how molecules came together to spark this transition. Now, scientists at Scripps Research have discovered a new set of chemical reactions that use cyanide, ammonia and carbon dioxide—all thought to be common on the early earth—to generate amino acids and nucleic acids, the building blocks of proteins and DNA.

"We've come up with a new paradigm to explain this shift from prebiotic to biotic chemistry," says Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, Ph.D., an associate professor of chemistry at Scripps Research, and lead author of the new paper, published July 28, 2022 in the journal Nature Chemistry. "We think the kind of reactions we've described are probably what could have happened on early earth."

In addition to giving researchers insight into the chemistry of the early earth, the newly discovered chemical reactions are also useful in certain manufacturing processes, such as the generation of custom labeled biomolecules from inexpensive starting materials.

Earlier this year, Krishnamurthy's group showed how cyanide can enable the chemical reactions that turn prebiotic molecules and water into basic organic compounds required for life. Unlike previously proposed reactions, this one worked at room temperature and in a wide pH range. The researchers wondered whether, under the same conditions, there was a way to generate amino acids, more complex molecules that compose proteins in all known living cells.

[...] "We were expecting it to be quite difficult to figure this out, and it turned out to be even simpler than we had imagined," says Krishnamurthy. "If you mix only the keto acid, cyanide and ammonia, it just sits there. As soon as you add carbon dioxide, even trace amounts, the reaction picks up speed."

Because the new reaction is relatively similar to what occurs today inside cells—except for being driven by cyanide instead of a protein—it seems more likely to be the source of early life, rather than drastically different reactions, the researchers say. The research also helps bring together two sides of a long-standing debate about the importance of carbon dioxide to early life, concluding that carbon dioxide was key, but only in combination with other molecules.

Journal Reference:
Pulletikurti, Sunil, Yadav, Mahipal, Springsteen, Greg, et al. Prebiotic synthesis of α-amino acids and orotate from α-ketoacids potentiates transition to extant metabolic pathways, Nature Chemistry, 2022. DOI: 10.1038/s41557-022-00999-w

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  • (Score: 2) by janrinok on Friday August 05, @11:12AM (2 children)

    by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Friday August 05, @11:12AM (#1265074) Journal

    You are assuming, I believe, whatever ills the world faces that might result in man become extinct will have the same effect on every other form of life.

    That might simply not be the case. It is unlikely that a new version of man will evolve but something else will almost certainly evolve from whatever life forms are left after we are long gone. After all, look at the diversity that we have today and, despite man's best efforts to wipe a great deal of it out, there is still a huge number of different forms with which we share this planet.

    We may well be on the way to making this planet uninhabitable for ourselves, but evolution probably views us as a minor blip over the passage of time.

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Opportunist on Friday August 05, @11:48AM (1 child)

    by Opportunist (5545) on Friday August 05, @11:48AM (#1265081)

    Nah, as the great philosopher and wise man George Carlin said, don't worry about the planet. The planet is fine, we're fucked.

    There's hope that whatever evolves after us to sentience may be a bit more considerate with the resouces offered. But then again, it sure is going to be harder for them. We had the resources a planet would create through millions if not billions of years at our disposal. At this point, I'm not even sure we could repeat our own development, considering that all the low hanging fruits and easily accessible resources, the ones that we could reach with more primitive forms of digging through mountains and drilling into the earth, are gone because, well, if it's easy to get, it's the first thing that's gone. That's why you find fairly little gold and other precious material just lying around anymore. That was the first stuff that went.

    We sure ain't gonna make it easy for whoever comes after we managed to screw ourselves beyond repair. Which may well be a good thing, considering how we certainly could not have become the problem for the rest of the planet without easy access to resources that allowed us to create the tools we have today.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Friday August 05, @12:32PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday August 05, @12:32PM (#1265087) Journal

      There's hope that whatever evolves after us to sentience may be a bit more considerate with the resouces offered.

      Keep in mind that we presently offer a lot of resources in the form of our cities and landfills. We're already really considerate.