Today, genetic information is stored in DNA. RNA is created from DNA to put that information into action. RNA can direct the creation of proteins and perform other essential functions of life that DNA can't do. RNA's versatility is one reason that scientists think this polymer came first, with DNA evolving later as a better way to store genetic information for the long haul. But like DNA, RNA also could be a product of evolution, scientists theorize.

Chemists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have shown how molecules that may have been present on early Earth can self-assemble into structures that could represent a starting point of RNA. The spontaneous formation of RNA building blocks is seen as a crucial step in the origin of life, but one that scientists have struggled with for decades.

"In our study, we demonstrate a reaction that we see as important for the formation of the earliest RNA-like molecules," said Nicholas Hud, professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech, where he's also the director of the Center for Chemical Evolution.