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NEWS
Discovery Supports New View Of How Life Originated On Earth
December 31, 2020

In addressing the age-old question of how life on Earth first arose, chemists have made a discovery: that supports a surprising new view of how life originated on our planet, according to information provided by The Scripps Research Institute (Scripps Research).

With funding provided by the Simons Foundation, the Scripps Research chemists demonstrated in a study, “Prebiotic Phosphorylation and Concomitant Oligomerization of Deoxynucleosides to form DNA,” that a simple compound called diamidophosphate (DAP) could have chemically knitted together tiny DNA building blocks called deoxynucleosides into strands of primordial DNA.

Published in the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie, the finding, authored by Eddy Jiménez, Clémentine Gibard and Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, is the latest in a series of discoveries, over the past several years, pointing to the possibility that DNA and its close chemical cousin RNA arose together as products of similar chemical reactions, and that the first self-replicating molecules—the first life forms on Earth—were mixes of the two.

The discovery may also lead to new practical applications in chemistry and biology, but its main significance is that it addresses the age-old question of how life on Earth first arose. In particular, it paves the way for more extensive studies of how self-replicating DNA-RNA mixes could have evolved and spread on the primordial Earth and ultimately seeded the more mature biology of modern organisms.

“This finding is an important step toward the development of a detailed chemical model of how the first life forms originated on Earth,” noted study senior author Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, PhD, associate professor of chemistry at Scripps Research.

The finding also nudges the field of origin-of-life chemistry away from the hypothesis that has dominated it in recent decades: The “RNA World” hypothesis posits that the first replicators were RNA-based, and that DNA arose only later as a product of RNA life forms.

“Now that we understand better how a primordial chemistry could have made the first RNAs and DNAs, we can start using it on mixes of ribonucleoside and deoxynucleoside building blocks to see what chimeric molecules are formed—and whether they can self-replicate and evolve,” Dr. Krishnamurthy posited.


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