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Study builds on plausible scenario for origin of life on Earth

Date:
August 10, 2011
Source:
University of California - Merced
Summary:
A relatively simple combination of naturally occurring sugars and amino acids offers a plausible route to the building blocks of life, according to a new article. The study shows how the precursors to RNA could have formed on Earth before any life existed.

The natural enantiomer of the RNA precursor molecules formed a crystal structure visible to the naked eye.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of California - Merced

A relatively simple combination of naturally occurring sugars and amino acids offers a plausible route to the building blocks of life, according to a paper published in Nature Chemistry.

The study shows how the precursors to RNA could have formed on Earth before any life existed. It was authored by Jason E. Hein, Eric Tse and Donna G. Blackmond, a team of researchers with the Scripps Research Institute. Hein is now a chemistry professor with University of California, Merced.

Biological molecules, such as RNA and proteins, can exist in either a natural or unnatural form, called enantiomers. By studying the chemical reactions carefully, the research team found that it was possible to generate only the natural form of the necessary RNA precursors by including simple amino acids.

"These amino acids changed how the reactions work and allowed only the naturally occurring RNA precursors to be generated in a stable form," said Hein. "In the end, we showed that an amazingly simple result emerged from some very complex and interconnected chemistry."

The natural enantiomer of the RNA precursor molecules formed a crystal structure visible to the naked eye. The crystals are stable and avoid normal chemical breakdown. They can exist until the conditions are right for them to change into RNA.

The study was led by Blackmond and builds on the work of John D. Sutherland and Matthew W. Powner published in 2009 and covered by outlets such as The New York Times and Wired. Sutherland is a chemist with Cambridge's Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Powner is a post-doctoral scholar with Harvard University.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Jason E. Hein, Eric Tse, Donna G. Blackmond. A route to enantiopure RNA precursors from nearly racemic starting materials. Nature Chemistry, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/NCHEM.1108

Cite This Page:

University of California - Merced. "Study builds on plausible scenario for origin of life on Earth." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 August 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110809144517.htm>.
University of California - Merced. (2011, August 10). Study builds on plausible scenario for origin of life on Earth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110809144517.htm
University of California - Merced. "Study builds on plausible scenario for origin of life on Earth." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110809144517.htm (accessed April 19, 2014).

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