We May Have Just Found the Origin of Life on Earth
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The origin of life on Earth is one of the most significant questions in history. Now, we may finally have the answer.
From Lovecraft's shoggoths to Prometheus' Engineers, there have been hundreds of retellings of the moment that life appeared in our solar system, but modern science keeps coming back to one idea in particular: phosphorylation.
It's a process that creates the molecular building blocks of cells, turning "dead" material into complex structures that can store genetic information (among other things).
But no substance has been found that could realistically carry out this magical process of phosphorylation. Scientists have come up with a number of different agents that could each carry out phosphorylation, but a different one was needed for each type of molecular building block (peptide, nucleotides, etc.), and these reactions could only happen under rare or unlikely circumstances. There was no single known substance that could create all the molecules needed for life...until now.
New research from The Scripps Research Institute, led by Professor Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, has discovered a compound called diamidophosphate, or DAP, that could do exactly what scientists have described.
"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 study senior author Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, associate 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."
Making that jump, from relatively simple molecules to functioning, living cells, is the crucial question at the heart of the mystery of life on Earth. Even Krishnamurthy recognizes how miraculous the combination of DAP and phosphorylation seems.
"It reminds me of the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, who waves a wand and 'poof,' 'poof,' 'poof,' everything simple is transformed into something more complex and interesting,"