In DepthBiochemistry

Origin-of-life puzzle cracked

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Science  20 Mar 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6228, pp. 1298
DOI: 10.1126/science.347.6228.1298

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The origin of life is full of paradoxes. To reproduce, modern cells require genetic information, such as DNA or RNA, proteins to carry out a multitude of cellular functions, and lipids that make up the cell membranes holding all the other molecules inside. Yet copying DNA and RNA requires proteins, and new proteins can't be made without their genetic template. Just as puzzling, lipids are made by protein-based enzymes, which of course are encoded by DNA. Origin-of-life researchers have long suggested scenarios for which set of biomolecules may have arisen first and set the stage for the others. But now chemists in the United Kingdom report new evidence that precursors for all three sets of biomolecules—nucleic acids, amino acids, and lipids—can be generated by a pair of simple compounds that would have been present on early Earth. As such, the work offers a possible way out of the paradoxes of the origin of life on Earth.