Scientists announce a breakthrough in determining the origin of life on Earth – and possibly Mars

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Scientists at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution announced today that RNA, an analogue of DNA that was likely life’s first genetic material, spontaneously forms on basalt lava glass. This glass was abundant on Earth 4.35 billion years ago. Basalts similar to these ancient times live on Mars today.

Societies that study the origins of life They have diverged in recent years,” noted Stephen Benner, co-author of the study that appeared online in the journal astrobiology.

“One society revisits classic questions with complex chemical schemes that require difficult chemistry by skilled chemists,” Benner explained. Their beautiful craftsmanship is featured in brand-name magazines like temper nature And the Sciences. However, precisely because of the complexity of this chemistry, it is not possible to explain how life actually originated on Earth.

In contrast, foundational study takes a simpler approach. Led by Elisa Biondi, the study showed that long RNA molecules, 100-200 nucleotides in length, form when nucleoside triphosphates do nothing more than filter through basalt glass.

“Basaltic glass was everywhere on Earth at the time,” commented Stephen Mogesses, an Earth scientist who was also involved in the study. “For several hundred million years after the moon formed, repeated impacts combined with the abundance of volcanoes on the young planet formed molten basaltic lava, the source of the basalt glass. The impacts also evaporated water to give dry land, providing aquifers where RNA can form. .”

The same effects also led to the production of nickel, which the team showed gives nucleoside triphosphates a nucleoside and activated phosphate, also found in lava glass. Borate (as in borax), also from basalt, controls the formation of those of triphosphate.

The same influences that formed the glass also transiently reduced the atmosphere through its iron-nickel metal core. RNA bases, whose sequence is stored genetic informationIt is formed in such an atmosphere. The team previously showed that nucleosides are formed by a simple reaction between ribose phosphate and RNA bases.

“The beauty of this model is its simplicity. It can be tested by high school students in a chemistry class,” said Jan Abschek, who was not involved in this study but has developed a tool for discovering alien genetic polymers on Mars. “Mix the ingredients, wait a few days and find out the RNA.”

The same rocks resolve other inconsistencies in making RNA in a pathway that goes all the way from simple organic molecules to the first RNA. “For example, borate drives the formation of ribose, ‘R’ in RNA,” Benner added. This pathway starts from simple carbohydrates that “could not” have formed in the atmosphere above primitive Earth. They are stabilized by CO2. Volcanic sulfur, then rains on the surface to form reservoirs of organic minerals.

Thus, this work completes a pathway that produces RNA from small organic molecules that almost certainly existed in the early Earth. One geological model goes from one carbon molecule and two molecules to give RNA molecules long enough to support Darwinian evolution.

“Important questions remain,” Beiner warns. “We still don’t know how all the building blocks of RNA came to have the same general shape, a relationship known as homochirality.” Similarly, the bonds between nucleotides can be variable in basaltic composites glass. This import is unknown.

Mars is very relevant to this announcement because the same minerals, spectacles, and influences were also present on Mars in those ancient times. However, Mars did not suffer continental drift And the tectonic plates that buried most of the rocks from the earth more than 4 billion years ago. Thus, the rocks remain from time to time on Mars. Recent missions to Mars have found all the necessary rocks, including borates.

“If life appeared on Earth via this simple path, it is also possible that it appeared on Mars,” Benner said. This increases the importance of searching for life on Mars as quickly as possible. ”

Martian meteorite shows evidence of massive impact billions of years ago

more information:
Craig A. Jerome et al., Catalytic Synthesis of Polyribonucleic Acid on Prebiotic Rock Glass, astrobiology (2022). DOI: 10.1089/ast.2022.0027

Hyo-Joong Kim et al, The selective, selective prebiotic synthesis of purines and non-canonical pyrimidine nucleotides from nucleobases and phosphorylated carbohydrates, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1710778114

Hyo-Joong Kim et al, Prebiotic synthesis of canonical pyrimidine and purine ribonucleotides, astrobiology (2019). DOI: 10.1089/ast.2018.1935

Provided by the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution

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