Origin of life researchers figure out how to build bigger RNAs

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Pre-biochemistry can link small building blocks into bigger molecules.


We'll probably never know exactly how life on Earth got its start. The conditions in which it began have long since been lost, and there are simply too many precursor molecules and potential environments that could have gotten the process going. Nevertheless, researchers hope to put together a pathway that's at least plausible, starting from simple molecules that were present on the early Earth and building up to an enclosed system with basic inheritance (from there, evolution can take over).

A lot of progress has been made in understanding how a simple chemical, like hydrogen cyanide, can be built up through a series of reactions into a nucleotide, the basic building block of molecules like DNA and RNA. And we've learned quite a bit about how larger RNAs (more than 100 nucleotides long) can fold into complex structures that can catalyze reactions and undergo the chemical equivalent of Darwinian evolution. The challenge has been bridging the gap between the two, going from a handful of linked nucleotides to a large molecule that's potentially capable of catalyzing chemical reactions.

Now, the team that developed the earlier results is back with another publication. Their latest work shows how short molecules that are composed of just a handful of nucleotides can be linked together, eventually building longer, more complex chains. Once again, the chemistry is simple enough to occur on the early Earth, and the reaction might explain a curious bias in how DNA and RNA are built into long chains of nucleotides.

Written By: John Timmer
continue to source article at arstechnica.com

13 COMMENTS

  1. Zen, that day is closer than many realize!!! There are so many cutting edge researchers engaged in such incredible work…. Maybe we will be debating this very topic here on Dawkins sometime in the very near future. I look forward to it.

    • In reply to #2 by crookedshoes:

      Zen, that day is closer than many realize!!! There are so many cutting edge researchers engaged in such incredible work…. Maybe we will be debating this very topic here on Dawkins sometime in the very near future. I look forward to it.

      Please start. This site has been a bit “fluffy” in the past few months. I keep trying to come up with some sort of thoughtful topic to start – but I’m just not smart enough or something.

    • In reply to #3 by Kevin Murrell:

      Wish I could understand the bio-babble, let alone the facts that it describes. It would be simpler to turn creationist.

      Its always simpler to do the easy thing. It is a lot easier to steal money than earn it. It is a lot easier to read some fantasies about the creation of a world by magic than reading about various models of how it actually could have happened – without magic. It is easier to read harrry potter than reading an introductory text into any sciences. It is also easier not to think but just listen and obey. That way tyranny lurks.

      • In reply to #6 by kraut:

        In reply to #3 by Kevin Murrell:

        Wish I could understand the bio-babble, let alone the facts that it describes. It would be simpler to turn creationist.

        Its always simpler to do the easy thing. It is a lot easier to steal money than earn it. It is a lot easier to read some fantasies about the creation of a world by magic than reading about various models of how it actually could have happened – without magic. It is easier to read harrry potter than reading an introductory text into any sciences. It is also easier not to think but just listen and obey. That way tyranny lurks.

        Thanks for the tip. I think I intended to be ironical about jumping ship, though sadly, not about my lack of scientific understaanding!

    • In reply to #3 by Kevin Murrell:

      Wish I could understand the bio-babble, let alone the facts that it describes. It would be simpler to turn creationist.

      Yep- precisely why the intellectually challenged prefer religion

  2. Kevin- let me recommend Coursera. I took a free course from Duke on Genetics and Evolution through them and it has really allowed me to more fully appreciate findings like this. It doesn’t allow me to dissect the chemistry like a pro but I can follow the logic and structure quite well.

    This is not a good good time for you to hop aboard the Good Ship YEC. It’s taking on water fast and if it lists any more to the right, she’s going down.

    • In reply to #4 by rjohn19:

      Kevin- let me recommend Coursera. I took a free course from Duke on Genetics and Evolution through them and it has really allowed me to more fully appreciate findings like this. It doesn’t allow me to dissect the chemistry like a pro but I can follow the logic and structure quite well.

      This is not a good good time for you to hop aboard the Good Ship YEC. It’s taking on water fast and if it lists any more to the right, she’s going down.
      Thanks rjohn. I’m in Ireland. Is there a website?contact/book you could recommend?

    • In reply to #4 by rjohn19:

      This is not a good good time for you to hop aboard the Good Ship YEC. It’s taking on water fast and if it lists any more to the right, she’s going down.

      Yeh! – But the cretinists will simply steal scuba apparatus from marine biologists, and then re-name it, “god’s intelligently designed submarine”!

    • In reply to #4 by rjohn19:

      Kevin- let me recommend Coursera. I took a free course from Duke on Genetics and Evolution through them and it has really allowed me to more fully appreciate findings like this. It doesn’t allow me to dissect the chemistry like a pro but I can follow the logic and structure quite well.

      This is not a good good time for you to hop aboard the Good Ship YEC. It’s taking on water fast and if it lists any more to the right, she’s going down.

      Thanks for your interest rjohn. I don’t live in the Land of the Free, so could you put me onto a good book or website that would help me. My son is doing biochem and genetics and he thinks me terribly dumb. I replied to you before, but for some reason my comments didn’t come through.

  3. Kevin- doesn’t matter where you live. Wish I could remember the exact figures but that course had something like 30,000 students from all over the world. You can simply audit the class, fully participate and earn a certificate from the university involved for free or pay $50 or $100 and get actual college credits. Amazing array or courses and top-line international universities involved. The internet at its finest…

    https://www.coursera.org/#courses

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