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Life’s First Spark Re-Created in the Laboratory

Thu, 05/14/2009 - 6:18am
Brandon Keim, Wired.com

Editor's Note: This research won't end the debate on Evolution vs. Creation, but it does provide some excellent food for thought.

(From Wired.com) - A fundamental but elusive step in the early evolution of life on Earth has been replicated in a laboratory.

Researchers synthesized the basic ingredients of RNA, a molecule from which the simplest self-replicating structures are made. Until now, they couldn’t explain how these ingredients might have formed.

“It’s like molecular choreography, where the molecules choreograph their own behavior,” said organic chemist John Sutherland of the University of Manchester, co-author of a study in Nature Wednesday.

RNA is now found in living cells, where it carries information between genes and protein-manufacturing cellular components. Scientists think RNA existed early in Earth’s history, providing a necessary intermediate platform between pre-biotic chemicals and DNA, its double-stranded, more-stable descendant.

Sutherland’s team took a different approach in what Harvard molecular biologist Jack Szostak called a “synthetic tour de force” in an accompanying commentary in Nature.

“By changing the way we mix the ingredients together, we managed to make ribonucleotides,” said Sutherland. “The chemistry works very effectively from simple precursors, and the conditions required are not distinct from what one might imagine took place on the early Earth.”

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