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Natural Affinities of RNA Components Could Have Led To Life

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the in-the-beginning dept.

Science 30

vinces99 writes "The chemical components crucial to the start of life on Earth may have primed and protected each other in never-before-realized ways, according to new research led by University of Washington scientists. That could mean a simpler scenario for how that first spark of life on the planet came about. Scientists have long thought that life started when the right combination of bases and sugars produced self-replicating ribonucleic acid, or RNA, inside a rudimentary 'cell' composed of fatty acids. Under the right conditions, fatty acids naturally form into bag-like structures similar to today's cell membranes. In testing one of the fatty acids representative of those found before life began – decanoic acid – the scientists discovered that the four bases in RNA bound more readily to the decanoic acid than did the other seven bases tested. By concentrating more of the bases and sugar that are the building blocks of RNA, the system would have been primed for the next steps, reactions that led to RNA inside a bag."

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I'll wait for the next headline (0)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year ago | (#44417215)

"Scientists create new form of life"

Then the next one:

"Scientist's new life form turns in to deadly unstoppable pathogen"

Re:I'll wait for the next headline (5, Interesting)

elysiuan (762931) | about a year ago | (#44417257)

You know, our immune system as a whole is, to paraphrase Stephenson, stupendously badass. The reason pathogens still get us sick is because they too have had billions of years to adapt to combat our immune system. The chances of scientists (or some panspermic disaster scenario) introducing a pathogen that bypasses our immune system completely by accident are pretty infinitesimal.

If you want to create a bioweapon you don't start with something unknown and then try to hack around our immune system. You go find something that nature has brought 99% of the way to where you want it and tweak.

Re:I'll wait for the next headline (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year ago | (#44417597)

Our immune systems have been evolving for billions of years to combat the pathogens that have been evolving for billions of years.

Add something completely different into the mix and what happens? Something unintentional, that's what.

Re:I'll wait for the next headline (5, Insightful)

elysiuan (762931) | about a year ago | (#44417765)

You're forgetting that our immune system blocks the vast, vast majority of bacteria, viruses, etc from doing anything at all. The ones that can have found explicit "hacks" that leverage vulnerabilities in the immune system. I suspect we'll have to agree to disagree on this one but if you can make a case about what the 'something completely different' would be that a) is compatible enough with our biology to infect us, and b) able to bypass our immune system entirely I would love to hear it.

Re:I'll wait for the next headline (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44417841)

You're forgetting that our immune system blocks the vast, vast majority of bacteria, viruses, etc from doing anything at all.

But the immune system also has a lot of specific adaptations for common pathogens. It's unknown how effective it would be against completely novel pathogens, or even pathogens that it hasn't encountered in a long time.

I suspect we'll have to agree to disagree on this one but if you can make a case about what the 'something completely different' would be that a) is compatible enough with our biology to infect us, and b) able to bypass our immune system entirely I would love to hear it.

Prions, for example. But, frankly, each of us carries many viruses and bacterial infections.

Pathogen bypassing our immune system (1)

ulatekh (775985) | about a year ago | (#44420283)

if you can make a case about what the 'something completely different' would be that a) is compatible enough with our biology to infect us, and b) able to bypass our immune system entirely I would love to hear it.

Ummm...maybe a human immunodeficiency virus [wikipedia.org] that attacks our immune system itself?

Re:Pathogen bypassing our immune system (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about a year ago | (#44422463)

HIV isn't "something completely different". It's a retrovirus. They've been around for uncounted millenia. That's his point. Something that's been evolving that long can, on very rare occasions, pull that kind of trick out of its hat. Something created by scratch in a lab with only a few year's development? Not so likely.

Re:I'll wait for the next headline (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#44419293)

In most cases, what happens is nothing. Most species of bacteria and most viruses can't infect a human body. The same goes for every other species of animal and plant.

Fools (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44417245)

Tell me, you foolish evolutionist. When did the tear duct and the gland that produces the tears that keep the eye lubricated develop itself? God has truly made a fitting place for all of you to spend eternity - the lake of fire!

Re:Fools (3, Insightful)

krashnburn200 (1031132) | about a year ago | (#44417309)

But he loves you!

Re:Fools (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44417341)

Just because YOU can't figure it out doesn't mean God couldn't do it.

If God wanted to create man in His image by using evolution, why couldn't He?

If you really believe in the Christian God, you are the arrogant fool to claim your inability to comprehend how something could happen places limits on what God could accomplish.

Default == Unknown; Default != God (5, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year ago | (#44417901)

Indeed, it's a common fallacy that if you are having trouble applying an existing natural theory to a specific puzzle, then the default is a deity. The real default of any puzzle is "unknown".

Re:Fools (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44417355)

When? More than six thousand years ago.

Re:Fools (1)

Antipater (2053064) | about a year ago | (#44417441)

the gland that produces the tears that keep the eye lubricated

It's called the lacrimal gland [wikipedia.org] . Just fyi.

Re:Fools (4, Interesting)

cusco (717999) | about a year ago | (#44417443)

When fish first started crawling up on land to eat insects. I thought that was obvious. In case you didn't know, mudskippers also produce mucus to keep their skin wet while they're on land, and pump the water that keeps their gills wet in order to keep it oxygenated. Amazing things can happen when you have millions of years to work with.

Re:Fools (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44417645)

remember; the christian world have not had that long yet, only, hmm was it around 6000? years... so give them time and they might see the (real) truth. they just need to evolve for a few million years still.

Re:Fools (4, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year ago | (#44418035)

When did the tear duct and the gland that produces the tears that keep the eye lubricated develop itself? God has...

Obviously the first land creature used duct tape; it does everything.

Incredibly Cool (5, Interesting)

cusco (717999) | about a year ago | (#44417401)

I found this part from TFA to be the neatest bit of all:

Black, lead author of the paper, originated the ideas behind the work. A retired biochemist with Amgen Inc., Black contributed funding for the work to Keller’s lab – the work also received National Science Foundation funding – and became a UW affiliate professor volunteering in the Keller lab.
“I think that a pretty common story is that some young hotshot comes to UW to start her or his career and does a risky experiment that uncovers new fundamental science,” Keller said. “Here we have an older hotshot who came to UW at the end of his Amgen career to do a risky experiment that uncovers new fundamental science. I think the story also emphasizes that people don’t become scientists just because it is a good job – they do it because they love it,” she said. “Roy worked for a year and a half straight, volunteering his time to UW on something he didn’t get paid for, just for the joy and the curiosity.”

Re:Incredibly Cool (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44417427)

“Roy worked for a year and a half straight, volunteering his time to UW on something he didn’t get paid for, just for the joy and the curiosity.”

And the blowjobs from young female students that wanted their names listed on the study.

Great research (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44417437)

This along with those people digging huge holes to find ancient cave systems will rewrite the history books of biology.
It will be fantastic news in the coming decades for biology and life genesis research.
The deeper we go, the older caves we are likely to find, even if they are absolutely tiny. Just one could hold a whole new system we never knew about.

Hell, we might even find other forms of life that never made it because they are either unstable or they were beaten and destroyed by the current life that exists now.
But I doubt the latter part. All evidence points to our system being the lowest energy states that seem to form bonds easily, require the least amount of energy to work with, etc.
Could be wrong though, we might even be "medium-energy" based creatures that can afford to use higher elemental bonds because we have a half-decent star up there.

The only thing we might find in the future is higher energy creatures that can afford to evolve using even higher elements because there is such an abundance of elementsX and Y as well as the energy needed so that they can repair any damage easily from, say, radioactive elements falling apart during decay. We know some methods of species protecting themselves entirely from radiation at that, so we know high-radiation immunity is possible.
That would be pretty neat if such a thing could exist. That one bacteria being able to chomp on arsenic and use it in place of phosphors could be indicative of the possibility.
And our own research of making metallic-based DNA, and alternative pairs, might even be possible in nature given the right planet, star and element richness.

Self generating life... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44417483)

You know... there was a time in science, not that long ago, when the idea of "spontaneous generation" of life from inert matter was held ludicrous...

I guess everything EVOLVES over time...

Of course... evolution explains CHANGE over time.... but it NEVER explains the FIRST time worth a damn...

Re:Self generating life... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44417661)

Yep.

Re:Self generating life... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year ago | (#44417923)

explains CHANGE over time.... but it NEVER explains the FIRST time worth a damn...

Sounds like marriage

Why cell walls? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year ago | (#44417995)

I always wondered why the first life would have to be cells. What about some kind of "naked" strand of molecules that accidentally reproduces with occasional copy errors? There are various known simple proteins that kind of display such behavior.

The first (semi) life form wouldn't have to compete with anything except the environment such that it may not need some fancy shmancy shell to start the ball rolling.

Re:Why cell walls? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44418095)

There's a pretty good explanation here (http://exploringorigins.org/fattyacids.html). Basically, if anything makes copies of things, if it makes copies of random bit of stuff floating by you'll end up with as much random stuff as useful stuff.

Re:Why cell walls? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year ago | (#44425859)

Basically, if anything makes copies of things, if it makes copies of random bit of stuff floating by you'll end up with as much random stuff as useful stuff.

I meant makes copies of itself, or at least something that can also make copies. If a "baby" can't make copies, then there will not be more of it.

Maybe it eventually "learns" to consume the other experiments such that in the end, there's nothing left in the pond but successful reproducers, which then spill into adjacent ponds.

Re:Why cell walls? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44418155)

All known life is cellular, so it may be a bias of that knowledge. Also, the concentration of free biomolecules would probably be low in most pre-life environments so a membrane that maintains a high local concentration would provide an advantage to self-replicating molecules that could give them enough time to become more complex.

Re:Why cell walls? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44419087)

The current thinking goes that you need a proton gradient to supply energy to do things. This probably happened in natural pockets hydrothermal vents. Once you have a fatty membrane you can keep your bits in and way from other self-replicating molecules, protect them from nasty things like oxygen which want to break them down, maintain a proton gradient across it and move outside your little pocket and colonise the rest of the planet.

There is little new in this paper, it is mostly ideas that have been around for over 30 years. The new bit is that by showing than the RNA bases bind well to one fatty acid it may explain why RNA instead of other similar compound was the basis of the first replicating life.

Of course if other bases bind well to a different fatty acid, then it might explain less and it could that the RNA bases were selected because they formed the best replicating system with enzymic properties, and decanoic acid just happens to be the fatty acid that binds best to them and keeps them together and protected.

Life didn't need to "start" on Earth (1)

ulatekh (775985) | about a year ago | (#44420325)

The idea that life had to start on Earth assumes that Earth is some sort of sterile petri dish.
I think it's far more likely that the first life on Earth was extraterrestrial in origin.
Given the general quality of people I've met in my life, I believe that life on this planet arose from fecal bacteria, deposited during an interplanetary "bathroom break".

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