The natural enantiomer of the RNA precursor molecules formed a crystal structure visible to the naked eye. Credit: Jason Hein
relatively simple combination of naturally occurring sugars and amino
acids offers a plausible route to the building blocks of life, according
to a paper published in Nature Chemistry co-authored by a professor at the University of California, Merced.
study shows how the precursors to RNA could have formed on Earth before
any life existed. It was authored by Jason E. Hein, Eric Tse and Donna
G. Blackmond, a team of researchers with the Scripps Research Institute.
Hein is now a chemistry professor with UC Merced. The paper was
published online Sunday.
molecules, such as RNA and proteins, can exist in either a natural or
unnatural form, called enantiomers. By studying the chemical reactions
carefully, the research team found that it was possible to generate only
the natural form of the necessary RNA precursors by including simple
amino acids changed how the reactions work and allowed only the
naturally occurring RNA precursors to be generated in a stable form,”
said Hein. “In the end, we showed that an amazingly simple result
emerged from some very complex and interconnected chemistry.”
natural enantiomer of the RNA precursor molecules formed a crystal
structure visible to the naked eye. The crystals are stable and avoid
normal chemical breakdown. They can exist until the conditions are right
for them to change into RNA.
study was led by Blackmond and builds on the work of John D. Sutherland
and Matthew W. Powner published in 2009 and covered by outlets such as
The New York Times and Wired. Sutherland is a chemist with Cambridge’s
Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Powner is a
post-doctoral scholar with Harvard University.