The Importance of Being Alkaline

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Science  24 Oct 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5645, pp. 580-581
DOI: 10.1126/science.1091765

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The earliest forms of "protolife" on Earth must have been able to reproduce and replicate; it is likely that they were also cellular. How might such systems have formed? In his Perspective, Russell highlights the report by Hanczyc et al., who show that clay particles can catalyze the formation of lipid vesicles. These particles also adsorb RNA. If the vesicles are forced to divide, RNA is distributed among the daughter vesicles. Similar conditions to those used in the experiments may have existed at mounds created by alkaline, hydrothermal seepages on the ancient ocean floor. However, instead of lipids, polypeptides formed from amino acids may have formed the first organic membranes.