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Natural Affinities of RNA Components Could Have Led To Life 30

vinces99 writes "The chemical components crucial to the start of life on Earth may have primed and protected each other in never-before-realized ways, according to new research led by University of Washington scientists. That could mean a simpler scenario for how that first spark of life on the planet came about. Scientists have long thought that life started when the right combination of bases and sugars produced self-replicating ribonucleic acid, or RNA, inside a rudimentary 'cell' composed of fatty acids. Under the right conditions, fatty acids naturally form into bag-like structures similar to today's cell membranes. In testing one of the fatty acids representative of those found before life began – decanoic acid – the scientists discovered that the four bases in RNA bound more readily to the decanoic acid than did the other seven bases tested. By concentrating more of the bases and sugar that are the building blocks of RNA, the system would have been primed for the next steps, reactions that led to RNA inside a bag."
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Natural Affinities of RNA Components Could Have Led To Life

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  • by elysiuan ( 762931 ) on Monday July 29, 2013 @05:35PM (#44417257) Homepage

    You know, our immune system as a whole is, to paraphrase Stephenson, stupendously badass. The reason pathogens still get us sick is because they too have had billions of years to adapt to combat our immune system. The chances of scientists (or some panspermic disaster scenario) introducing a pathogen that bypasses our immune system completely by accident are pretty infinitesimal.

    If you want to create a bioweapon you don't start with something unknown and then try to hack around our immune system. You go find something that nature has brought 99% of the way to where you want it and tweak.

  • Incredibly Cool (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cusco ( 717999 ) <> on Monday July 29, 2013 @05:53PM (#44417401)
    I found this part from TFA to be the neatest bit of all:

    Black, lead author of the paper, originated the ideas behind the work. A retired biochemist with Amgen Inc., Black contributed funding for the work to Keller’s lab – the work also received National Science Foundation funding – and became a UW affiliate professor volunteering in the Keller lab.
    “I think that a pretty common story is that some young hotshot comes to UW to start her or his career and does a risky experiment that uncovers new fundamental science,” Keller said. “Here we have an older hotshot who came to UW at the end of his Amgen career to do a risky experiment that uncovers new fundamental science. I think the story also emphasizes that people don’t become scientists just because it is a good job – they do it because they love it,” she said. “Roy worked for a year and a half straight, volunteering his time to UW on something he didn’t get paid for, just for the joy and the curiosity.”
  • Great research (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 29, 2013 @05:57PM (#44417437)

    This along with those people digging huge holes to find ancient cave systems will rewrite the history books of biology.
    It will be fantastic news in the coming decades for biology and life genesis research.
    The deeper we go, the older caves we are likely to find, even if they are absolutely tiny. Just one could hold a whole new system we never knew about.

    Hell, we might even find other forms of life that never made it because they are either unstable or they were beaten and destroyed by the current life that exists now.
    But I doubt the latter part. All evidence points to our system being the lowest energy states that seem to form bonds easily, require the least amount of energy to work with, etc.
    Could be wrong though, we might even be "medium-energy" based creatures that can afford to use higher elemental bonds because we have a half-decent star up there.

    The only thing we might find in the future is higher energy creatures that can afford to evolve using even higher elements because there is such an abundance of elementsX and Y as well as the energy needed so that they can repair any damage easily from, say, radioactive elements falling apart during decay. We know some methods of species protecting themselves entirely from radiation at that, so we know high-radiation immunity is possible.
    That would be pretty neat if such a thing could exist. That one bacteria being able to chomp on arsenic and use it in place of phosphors could be indicative of the possibility.
    And our own research of making metallic-based DNA, and alternative pairs, might even be possible in nature given the right planet, star and element richness.

  • Re:Fools (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cusco ( 717999 ) <> on Monday July 29, 2013 @05:58PM (#44417443)
    When fish first started crawling up on land to eat insects. I thought that was obvious. In case you didn't know, mudskippers also produce mucus to keep their skin wet while they're on land, and pump the water that keeps their gills wet in order to keep it oxygenated. Amazing things can happen when you have millions of years to work with.
  • Re:Why cell walls? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 29, 2013 @07:21PM (#44418155)

    All known life is cellular, so it may be a bias of that knowledge. Also, the concentration of free biomolecules would probably be low in most pre-life environments so a membrane that maintains a high local concentration would provide an advantage to self-replicating molecules that could give them enough time to become more complex.

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly