One of the biggest questions that biologists attempt to answer is the origin of life on Earth. While much of life science has answered questions about the development of species and changes in organisms over time, nobody has yet solved the mystery of how the first cells of life started. But a team of researchers from the University of Akron Department of Polymer Science may have discovered new information that can determine how molecules formed in the earliest stages of life and evolved into the organisms we know today.
According to Science News, Tianbo Liu and a team of researchers have discovered that nature may not have been required to make such a giant leap from basic molecules to the complexity of life as originally thought. The origin of life might be a simple matter of trends in mother nature. The research, published in a March 2015 issue of Nature Communications, explains how the basic building blocks of life, amino acids and sugars, have a bias toward forming more complicated structures with similar molecules. Liu and her team determined that the fundamental molecules of life, if they’re large enough and electrically charged, will consistently seek out their own kind to predictably form bigger groups of molecules. This phenomenon is called homochirality, and it may help advance scientific knowledge on the origin of life.
“We show that homochirality, or the manner in which molecules select other like molecules to form larger assemblies, may not be as mysterious as we imagined,” Liu explained.
In conjunction with Liu’s research about the tendency of similar molecules to bind is another research paper published on March 16, 2015 in Nature Chemistry that could explain the origin of life by accounting for the origin of RNA. According to AAAS, researchers in the fields of biology and chemistry have determined that the early conditions of Earth would have contained simple compounds needed to start chemical reactions that would produce the essential components of life. Nucleic acids, amino acids, and lipids would all have had the potential to form in the earliest years of the planet and hypothetically lead to the origin of life.
Research led by John Sutherland at the University of Cambridge builds on that knowledge, demonstrating how the simple precursory compounds acetylene and formaldehyde could chemically react in a primordial soup to produce the basic structure of RNA. In other words, one of the most necessary elements of forming life (RNA) could have reasonably formed on its own within the natural environment of early earth. Read the study at Nature Chemistry.
“[This research] proposes for the first time a scenario by which almost all of the essential building blocks for life could be assembled in one geological setting,” said Jack Szostak, a molecular biologist and researcher of life origins at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Though this does not prove origin of life came about in this exact way, it is a step toward understanding how life may have come about billions of years in the past. Other theories include the possibility that the origin of life began elsewhere in space.
What do you think is the origin of life?