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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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  • "Scientists create new form of life"

    Then the next one:

    "Scientist's new life form turns in to deadly unstoppable pathogen"

    • 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.

      • Our immune systems have been evolving for billions of years to combat the pathogens that have been evolving for billions of years.

        Add something completely different into the mix and what happens? Something unintentional, that's what.

        • by elysiuan ( 762931 ) on Monday July 29, 2013 @06:37PM (#44417765) Homepage

          You're forgetting that our immune system blocks the vast, vast majority of bacteria, viruses, etc from doing anything at all. The ones that can have found explicit "hacks" that leverage vulnerabilities in the immune system. I suspect we'll have to agree to disagree on this one but if you can make a case about what the 'something completely different' would be that a) is compatible enough with our biology to infect us, and b) able to bypass our immune system entirely I would love to hear it.

          • if you can make a case about what the 'something completely different' would be that a) is compatible enough with our biology to infect us, and b) able to bypass our immune system entirely I would love to hear it.

            Ummm...maybe a human immunodeficiency virus [] that attacks our immune system itself?

            • HIV isn't "something completely different". It's a retrovirus. They've been around for uncounted millenia. That's his point. Something that's been evolving that long can, on very rare occasions, pull that kind of trick out of its hat. Something created by scratch in a lab with only a few year's development? Not so likely.

        • In most cases, what happens is nothing. Most species of bacteria and most viruses can't infect a human body. The same goes for every other species of animal and plant.
  • Fools (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 29, 2013 @05:34PM (#44417245)

    Tell me, you foolish evolutionist. When did the tear duct and the gland that produces the tears that keep the eye lubricated develop itself? God has truly made a fitting place for all of you to spend eternity - the lake of fire!

  • Incredibly Cool (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cusco ( 717999 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (ybxib.nairb)> 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.

  • I always wondered why the first life would have to be cells. What about some kind of "naked" strand of molecules that accidentally reproduces with occasional copy errors? There are various known simple proteins that kind of display such behavior.

    The first (semi) life form wouldn't have to compete with anything except the environment such that it may not need some fancy shmancy shell to start the ball rolling.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There's a pretty good explanation here ( Basically, if anything makes copies of things, if it makes copies of random bit of stuff floating by you'll end up with as much random stuff as useful stuff.

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        Basically, if anything makes copies of things, if it makes copies of random bit of stuff floating by you'll end up with as much random stuff as useful stuff.

        I meant makes copies of itself, or at least something that can also make copies. If a "baby" can't make copies, then there will not be more of it.

        Maybe it eventually "learns" to consume the other experiments such that in the end, there's nothing left in the pond but successful reproducers, which then spill into adjacent ponds.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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.

  • The idea that life had to start on Earth assumes that Earth is some sort of sterile petri dish.
    I think it's far more likely that the first life on Earth was extraterrestrial in origin.
    Given the general quality of people I've met in my life, I believe that life on this planet arose from fecal bacteria, deposited during an interplanetary "bathroom break".

No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail.