Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Nature's batteries' may have helped power early lifeforms

Date:
May 25, 2010
Source:
University of Leeds
Summary:
Researchers in the UK have uncovered new clues to the origins of life on Earth. The team found that a compound known as pyrophosphite may have been an important energy source for primitive lifeforms.

A space-filling molecular model of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), with hydrogen shown white, oxygen red, phosphorous orange, nitrogen turquoise, and carbon black, and with ions marked by a negative sign.
Credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Researchers at the University of Leeds have uncovered new clues to the origins of life on Earth.

Related Articles


The team found that a compound known as pyrophosphite may have been an important energy source for primitive lifeforms.

There are several conflicting theories of how life on Earth emerged from inanimate matter billions of years ago -- a process known as abiogenesis.

"It's a chicken and egg question," said Dr Terry Kee of the University of Leeds, who led the research. "Scientists are in disagreement over what came first -- replication, or metabolism. But there is a third part to the equation -- and that is energy."

All living things require a continual supply of energy in order to function. This energy is carried around our bodies within certain molecules, one of the best known being ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which converts heat from the sun into a useable form for animals and plants.

At any one time, the human body contains just 250g of ATP -- this provides roughly the same amount of energy as a single AA battery. This ATP store is being constantly used and regenerated in cells via a process known as respiration, which is driven by natural catalysts called enzymes.

"You need enzymes to make ATP and you need ATP to make enzymes," explained Dr Kee. "The question is: where did energy come from before either of these two things existed? We think that the answer may lie in simple molecules such as pyrophosphite which is chemically very similar to ATP, but has the potential to transfer energy without enzymes."

The key to the battery-like properties of both ATP and pyrophosphite is an element called phosphorus, which is essential for all living things. Not only is phosphorus the active component of ATP, it also forms the backbone of DNA and is important in the structure of cell walls.

But despite its importance to life, it is not fully understood how phosphorus first appeared in our atmosphere. One theory is that it was contained within the many meteorites that collided with the Earth billions of years ago.

"Phosphorus is present within several meteoritic minerals and it is possible that this reacted to form pyrophosphite under the acidic, volcanic conditions of early Earth," added Dr Kee.

The findings, published in the journal Chemical Communications, are the first to suggest that pyrophosphite may have been relevant in the shift from basic chemistry to complex biology when life on earth began. Since completing this research, Dr Kee and his team have found even further evidence for the importance of this molecule and now hope to team up with collaborators from NASA to investigate its role in abiogenesis.

The study was funded by the STFC and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Leeds. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. David E. Bryant, Katie E. R. Marriott, Stuart A. Macgregor, Colin Kilner, Matthew A. Pasek, Terence P. Kee. On the prebiotic potential of reduced oxidation state phosphorus: the H-phosphinate-pyruvate system. Chemical Communications, 2010; 46 (21): 3726 DOI: 10.1039/c002689a

Cite This Page:

University of Leeds. "'Nature's batteries' may have helped power early lifeforms." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 May 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100525094906.htm>.
University of Leeds. (2010, May 25). 'Nature's batteries' may have helped power early lifeforms. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100525094906.htm
University of Leeds. "'Nature's batteries' may have helped power early lifeforms." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100525094906.htm (accessed November 28, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Friday, November 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Dinosaur Species Found in Museum Collection

New Dinosaur Species Found in Museum Collection

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 27, 2014) A British palaeontologist has discovered a new species of dinosaur while studying fossils in a Canadian museum. Pentaceratops aquilonius was related to Triceratops and lived at the end of the Cretaceous Period, around 75 million years ago. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Reuters - Entertainment Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) The iconic piano from "Casablanca" and the Cowardly Lion suit from "The Wizard of Oz" fetch millions at auction. Sara Hemrajani reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) A multinational group of scientists have released the first ever detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice. Using an underwater robot equipped with sonar, the researchers mapped the underside of a massive area of sea ice to gauge the impact of climate change. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) Media is calling it an "underwater Pompeii." Researchers have found ruins off the coast of Delos. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins