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Elegant Themes

A new study sheds light on the question of the origin of life

Jul 11, 2019, 8:00 am

The question of who or what came first still persists to this day. Was it the chicken or the egg? The simple question then leads to a more complex question about the origin of life itself. A new study at University College London may be able to shed some light on it and bring us closer to the answer.

The study may have found a way to understand the mystery of life and how these mysteries interact with different types of peptides and proteins to produce life. It still remains a mystery as to how life was first triggered here on earth. There is a widely accepted belief that everything begins with a nutrient-rich “raw soup”.

In the beginning, there was only this raw soup with concentrated surface or surrounded by deep-sea hydrothermal vents. The energy from lightning strikes or volcanic activity initiates this process, linking amino acids to form peptides which continue to form proteins and ultimately life. However, the new study questions this belief.

Peptides are an amino acid chain that is absolutely essential to all life on Earth. They form protein structures that act as catalysts for biological processes, but they themselves require enzymes to control the formation of amino acids. So we have a classic ‘chicken or egg first’ question – how is the first enzyme produced? – Matthew Powner, the lead author of the study

To find the answer to these questions, the researchers focused on the molecules called aminonitriles and found that they could convert the aminonitrile directly into a peptide. The aminonitrile is first combined with hydrogen sulfide and ferricyanide in water.

This is the first time that convincingly demonstrates peptide formation without the use of amino acids in water, using relatively mild conditions that may be available on the original Earth – Saidul Islam, Co-author, Study

This technology would not only help us understand the origin of life better but also, according to the researchers, it could also be applied to synthetic chemistry to produce materials and drugs more efficiently.

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