Evolution of life’s operating system revealed in detail

Jul 15, 2014

By Science Daily


The evolution of the ribosome, a large molecular structure found in the cells of all species, has been revealed in unprecedented detail in a new study.

Around 4 billion years ago, the first molecules of life came together on the early Earth and formed precursors of modern proteins and RNA. Scientists studying the origin of life have been searching for clues about how these reactions happened. Some of those clues have been found in the ribosome.

The core of the ribosome is essentially the same in all living systems, while the outer regions expand and become complicated as species gain complexity. By digitally peeling back the layers of modern ribosomes in the new study, scientists were able to model the structures of primordial ribosomes.

“The history of the ribosome is tells us about the origin of life,” said Loren Williams, a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We have worked out on a fine level of detail how the ribosome originated and evolved.”

The study was sponsored by the NASA Astrobiology Institute and the Center for Ribosomal Origins and Evolution at Georgia Tech. The results were published June 30 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In biology, the genetic information stored in DNA is transcribed into mRNA, which is then shipped out of the cell nucleus. Ribosomes, in all species use mRNA as a blueprint for building all the proteins and enzymes essential to life. The ribosome’s job is called translation.

Check out a video on the origins and evolution of the ribosome here.

8 comments on “Evolution of life’s operating system revealed in detail

  • 1
    God fearing Atheist says:

    I am astonished the LUCA ribosome is so small. Is it the complete functional ribosome, or only the core bit that hasn’t evolved?

    The diagram suggests it is less than 30 base pairs long. So if I took a solution of 30 * 2 power 60 base pairs (= 30 * 10 power 18) and randomly polymerised them, there is a good chance of getting one of these molecules (depending on the length distribution after the reaction). Given Avogadro’s number is 6 * 10 power 23, it is almost certain in a few tons of reactant. Evolution then gets to work.

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  • Looks pretty complex in the video.

    Would love to see what they could do with artificial, simplified ribosome-like chemical factories. This are only the first baby steps, and it’s still mind blowing.

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  • Not all combinations are going to be equally likely, just because of the chemistry involved and the “shape” of the resulting molecules, forces of attraction/repulsion between parts of the molecule etc. LUCA-like combinations are probably far more likely than the raw statistics might suggest (I say this given the existence of LUCA at the root of life, rather than any knowledge of the actual chemistry!).

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  • 6
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    I watched the video and was literally blown away by the beauty and the sheer complexity of this giant molecule. The magic of reality indeed! Meanwhile, people all over the world are being shortchanged to believe that religion is the greatest revelation there is. Poor fools! They don’t have the smallest inkling that they are missing the real show.

    It’s as if one willingly chose to stay indoors to watch a rerun of “The Price Is Right” while (the original) Pink Floyd is in their backyard, giving an exceptional, studio quality performance of all its best musical pieces for free.

    The choice of musical score is quite appropriate BTW… Bach’s Toccata in D minor. It adds a true sense of the grandiose significance of this molecule in the fascinating story of life on earth.

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  • I enjoyed the video too. If you would like to watch a short video on the same theme, this is from Harvard University and I think it is on the inner workings of our cells, and the production of white blood cells, that clean up infection. The video is the on on the second row in blue, Inner Life – View the Animation.


    The LUCA molecule video was spectacular. It think you will enjoy is as much.

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  • It’s one function in the operating system, but still a crucial one. I guess “Evolution of life’s memcpy() revealed in detail” would have confused more than informed. It’s startling to think of an operating system that also constructs (though does not devise– natural selection does that) its own peripherals and device drivers.

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