DNA could have existed long before life itself


THE latest twist in the origin-of-life tale is double helical. Chemists are close to demonstrating that the building blocks of DNA can form spontaneously from chemicals thought to be present on the primordial Earth. If they succeed, their work would suggest that DNA could have predated the birth of life.

DNA is essential to almost all life on Earth, yet most biologists think that life began with RNA. Just like DNA, it stores genetic information. What’s more, RNA can fold into complex shapes that can clamp onto other molecules and speed up chemical reactions, just like a protein, and it is structurally simpler than DNA, so might be easier to make.

After decades of trying, in 2009 researchers finally managed to generate RNA using chemicals that probably existed on the early Earth. Matthew Powner, now at University College London, and his colleagues synthesised two of the four nucleotides that make up RNA. Their achievement suggested that RNA may have formed spontaneously – powerful support for the idea that life began in an “RNA world”.

Powner’s latest work suggests that a rethink might be in order. He is trying to make DNA nucleotides through similar methods to those he used to make RNA nucleotides in 2009. And he’s getting closer.

Nucleotides consist of a sugar attached to a phosphate and a nitrogen-containing base molecule – these bases are the familiar letters of the genetic code. DNA nucleotides, which link together to form DNA, are harder to make than RNA nucleotides, because DNA uses a different sugar that is tougher to work with.

Written By: Michael Marshall
continue to source article at newscientist.com


  1. Very interesting, but since DNA is no good at all at doing the ‘proteine job’ of getting the actual work done, I’ll stick with the RNA world hypothesis. It seems to me highly likely that the DNA nucleotides have been around in the DNA world, since they can form spontaneously, as DFT ab initio calculations have repeatedly shown, but I don´t see how DNA could have started with the self-replication spontaneously.

  2. Seems a bit premature to publish an article about something someone “is trying” to do, n’est pas? Isn’t that simply the hypothesis stage?

  3. At least they said that it is being attempted instead of saying that it will probably be done by next July or some other such nonsense.

  4. We don’t know, of course, but does it not seem likely that if RNA and DNA can arise spontaneously that they could have coexisted on the early Earth and only later became complementary?  Just a thought.

    DNA could have existed long before life itself

    I think this title is misleading.  Even if DNA and RNA was being generated by the the chemistry and radiation on pre-life early Earth, it seems well established that DNA is missing from fossils beyond a few thousand years old , because it degrades with time.

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