Origin-of-Life Story May Have Found Its Missing Link

Jun 25, 2015

by Jesse Emspak

How did life on Earth begin? It’s been one of modern biology’s greatest mysteries: How did the chemical soup that existed on the early Earth lead to the complex molecules needed to create living, breathing organisms? Now, researchers say they’ve found the missing link.

Between 4.6 billion and 4.0 billion years ago, there was probably no life on Earth. The planet’s surface was at first molten and even as it cooled, it was getting pulverized by asteroids and comets. All that existed were simple chemicals. But about 3.8 billion years ago, the bombardment stopped, and life arose. Most scientists think the “last universal common ancestor” — the creature from which everything on the planet descends — appeared about 3.6 billion years ago.

But exactly how that creature arose has long puzzled scientists. For instance, how did the chemistry of simple carbon-based molecules lead to the information storage of ribonucleic acid, or RNA? The RNA molecule must store information to code for proteins. (Proteins in biology do more than build muscle — they also regulate a host of processes in the body.)

The new research — which involves two studies, one led by Charles Carter and one led by Richard Wolfenden, both of the University of North Carolina — suggests a way for RNA to control the production of proteins by working with simple amino acids that does not require the more complex enzymes that exist today.

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3 comments on “Origin-of-Life Story May Have Found Its Missing Link

  • 1
    Robert Firth says:

    But, but … I thought everyone agreed that life
    was created by the noodly appendage of the
    Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Seriously, though, this is another small step in solving
    a very great puzzle. Good work.

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  • Good work indeed.

    Early days yet, but this is a truly worthwhile endeavour.

    Another bite out of religions lunch?

    There’s little doubt about that, but I venture to say that should any positive findings be made a great deal of creative energy will be employed in order for the god mob to hijack them.

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  • One less gap for god to hide in. Life did begin, or I wouldn’t be here typing. God didn’t do it, so some chemistry did. Whether we finally nail down the exact chemistry is neither here nor there. If we do, great. If we don’t, with work like this, we can show that complex RNA chemistry was possible and probably in the primordial earth and so the spontaneous eruption of life is a viable hypothesis. I hope we do crack it. I can’t wait for the god ownership claim for the random chemistry. God certainly does work in mysterious ways.

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