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How This Whole Mess (Life) All Got Started


From the New York Times today:

“An English chemist has found the hidden gateway to the RNA world, the chemical milieu from which the first forms of life are thought to have emerged on earth some 3.8 billion years ago … [solving] a problem that for 20 years has thwarted researchers trying to understand the origin of life.” The article continues: “Scientists have long suspected that the first forms of life carried their biological information not in DNA but in RNA, its close chemical cousin. Though DNA is better known because of its storage of genetic information, RNA performs many of the trickiest operations in living cells.”

But until now, no one has been able to figure out how the first RNA spontaneously assembled from the chemical soup believed to have existed on the primitive Earth. In an article published today in Nature, John D. Sutherland, a chemist at the University of Manchester, and his colleagues Matthew W. Powner and Béatrice Gerland report that they have discovered the recipe, which the Times describes as “far from intuitive,” after 10 years of working through every possible combination of starting chemicals. Sutherland likened the process to that of completing a crossword puzzle, where doing the first clues makes the others easier.

The diagram above shows, in blue, the reaction that doesn’t work and, in green, the new work-around.”

Wishing someone had done something to make high school chemistry more interesting so I could really “read” this properly. But for now I’m going to have to take the word of Sutherland’s learned peers, who by and large say the work looks good.

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