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Biophysicist Georg Urtel defends importance of extinct hairpin molecules


From Suzan Mazur, author of Origin of Life Circus at Huffington Post, an interview with George Urtel:

Georg Urtel: The hairpins are just being replicated. They are being replicated very inefficiently. Again, this has to do with the nature of the secondary structures. The hairpin structure is inhibiting because what the hairpin structure does is it forms a double helix with itself. When you have such a structure, the primer can’t bind.

Suzan Mazur: What would you say is the significance of this experiment? Hasn’t it been known for many years that hairpins have a role in replication and recombination?

Georg Urtel: Yes. The hairpin structure you find in all kinds of RNA enzymes, but the point here is that we started with a simple replicator, the hairpin, that only uses one primer. And although this results in very inefficient replication — we’ve shown that two hairpins with some similarities in the loop structure can form a crossbreed that doesn’t have the secondary structure anymore. The crossbreed uses both primers and is replicating extremely fast.

Suzan Mazur: And no RNA is evident, only DNA.

Georg Urtel: Exactly. We work with DNA for various reasons. It’s easier to do an experiment with DNA. That’s also why we use the polymerase. What we were looking at in our experiment was the secondary structure. More.

Origin of Life Circus Urtel is not claiming to shed light on the origin of life, rather “Actually I don’t care too much because what’s important is that we come up with approaches to the synthesis of life. It’s unlikely we will find THE route from chemicals to the first cell, as it originally happened.”

Urtel is surely wise to limit his research to what can be demonstrated, rather than imagined. Thoughts?

See also: Origin of life researchers: Two simple prebiotic hairpin molecules could cooperate


What we know and don’t know about the origin of life

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