How did life arise on Earth? Rutgers researchers have found among the first and perhaps only hard evidence that simple protein catalysts – essential for cells, the building blocks of life, to function – may have existed when life began.
Their study of a primordial peptide, or short protein, is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the chemist Günter Wächtershäuser postulated that life began on iron- and sulfur-containing rocks in the ocean. Wächtershäuser and others predicted that short peptides would have bound metals and served as catalysts of life-producing chemistry, according to study co-author Vikas Nanda, an associate professor at Rutgers’ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Human DNA consists of genes that code for proteins that are a few hundred to a few thousand amino acids long. These complex proteins – needed to make all living-things function properly – are the result of billions of years of evolution. When life began, proteins were likely much simpler, perhaps just 10 to 20 amino acids long. With computer modeling, Rutgers scientists have been exploring what early peptides may have looked like and their possible chemical functions, according to Nanda. “Rutgers Scientists Identify Protein that May Have Existed When Life Began” at Rutgers University
We shall see if they can build a living cell that works that way.
See also: Origin of life challenge: The information challenge is the only one that counts