NOV 14, 2017 6:00 AM PST

Missing Link in Origins-of-Life Discovered

WRITTEN BY: Daniel Duan

The origin of life, formally known as abiogenesis, is the natural process by which first replicating life form arises from simple organic compounds in the pre-biotic era. It considers the physical and chemical reactions that could have led to early replicator molecules.

Early Earth provides an ideal environment for the emergence of simple organic molecules. Credit: dslauretta.com

A study recently reported in Nature Chemistry revealed that a simple organic molecule – a phosphorylation agent that might have played an essential role in the abiogenesis.

Abiogenesis is studied through a combination of paleontology, chemistry, and extrapolation from the characteristics of modern organisms, and aims to determine how pre-life chemical reactions gave rise to life on Earth.

Life functions through the specialized chemistry of four categories of organic molecules: lipids (main component of cellular membrane), carbohydrates (sugars and cellulose), amino acids (protein building blocks), and nucleic acids (self-replicating DNAs and RNAs). Many approaches to abiogenesis investigate how self-replicating molecules came into existence. It is thought that RNAs could have been the predominant players in the early years of abiogenesis.

One important hypothesis in the origins-of-life theorem is that phosphorylation, a chemical reaction that adds phosphoryl groups to molecules, may have been crucial for the assembly of three key molecules: nucleotides, polypeptides, and lipids. No one has ever found a phosphorylating agent that would have been present in the pre-biotic environment of the Earth.

A group of chemists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) claimed that they have now identified diamidophosphate (DAP) as the missing phosphorylation agent. "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," said Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, the senior author and professor of chemistry at TSRI. "That in turn would have allowed other chemistries that were not possible before, potentially leading to the first simple, cell-based living entities."

The study is a part of an ongoing effort to unravel missing link that bridges pre-biological chemistry and cell-based biochemistry. The TSRI team has discovered that DAP, a product of trimetaphosphate, can efficiently phosphorylate a wide variety of (pre)biological building blocks such as nucleosides/tides, amino acids, and lipid precursors, under the pre-biotic aqueous environment without the need for a condensing agent. What is more important, higher-order structures like oligonucleotides, peptides, and liposomes can also be formed under the same phosphorylation conditions.

In many previous reports, different chemical reactions were showed to be capable of phosphorylating life’s building blocks. But they all involved using different phosphorylating agents for different types of molecules; the reaction environments were also different from one to another.

The TSRI researchers are confident that DAP, among all other possibilities, is likely the true missing link in the phosphorylation of pre-biotic earth. "It has been hard to imagine how these very different processes could have combined in the same place to yield the first primitive life forms," said Krishnamurthy. "With DAP and water and these mild conditions, you can get these three important classes of pre-biological molecules to come together and be transformed, creating the opportunity for them to interact together," he added.

The team also had plans to team with early-Earth geochemists to try to identify potential sources of DAP, or similar phosphorus-nitrogen based phosphorylating agent, to further verify their theory.

Can Science Explain the Origin of Life? Credit: Stated Clearly

Source: phys.org

About the Author
  • Graduated with a bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a master degree in neuropharmacology, Daniel is a radiopharmaceutical and radiobiology expert based in Ottawa, Canada. With years of experience in biomedical R&D, Daniel is very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles. The recurring topics in his Chemistry & Physics trending news section include alternative energy, material science, theoretical physics, medical imaging, and green chemistry.
You May Also Like
AUG 10, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Researchers Confirm Exoplanet at Half the Mass of Venus
AUG 10, 2021
Researchers Confirm Exoplanet at Half the Mass of Venus
An international collaboration of researchers has identified a rocky exoplanet half the size of Venus, making it the low ...
SEP 02, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
The Future of Room-Temperature Superconductors
SEP 02, 2021
The Future of Room-Temperature Superconductors
It begins with two diamonds, a pinch of carbon, sulfur, and a whiff of hydrogen gas. The result is the world’s fir ...
SEP 22, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Commercial Fusion Energy Could be Within Reach, Thanks to the World's Most Powerful Magnet
SEP 22, 2021
Commercial Fusion Energy Could be Within Reach, Thanks to the World's Most Powerful Magnet
Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) announced this month that their new magnet might be the breakthrough needed to make fu ...
OCT 13, 2021
Plants & Animals
A New Approach to Detecting Fraudulent Food
OCT 13, 2021
A New Approach to Detecting Fraudulent Food
Food fraud is the act of deceiving someone about the food they are receiving, such as its quality or where it came from, ...
OCT 21, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Cosmic Radiation Events shed light on Norse Settlement in the Americas
OCT 21, 2021
Cosmic Radiation Events shed light on Norse Settlement in the Americas
A new open access study published in Nature yesterday showcases a relatively new method in archaeology. In an attempt to ...
OCT 29, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Recycled Lithium Batteries: Better than New?
OCT 29, 2021
Recycled Lithium Batteries: Better than New?
One of the most contentious issues in clean energy is the lithium battery. From environmental mining dangers to inhumane ...
Loading Comments...