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New Scientist: Researcher suggests molecules like Alzheimer plaques may have powered early life

File:Phospholipids aqueous solution structures.svg
self-organizing phospholipids/Villarreal


Korendovych’s latest research points to amyloids as a potential solution. Unlike enzymes, amyloids contain very short chains of amino acids, called peptides. “You can imagine that these short peptides could form in primordial soup,” says Korendovych.

Amyloids are generated spontaneously when you mix a bunch of these short peptides together. Each amyloid is a complicated 3D structure, not too different in appearance from an enzyme. But can they behave like enzymes too?

Apparently, some could.

“Let’s assume all 20 naturally occurring amino acids existed back then,” says Korendovych. “If your peptides each contain seven amino acids, then that’s 20^7 possible peptides – that’s a much smaller library than the 20^100 possibilities if your peptides each contain 100 amino acids.”

They used zinc ions to help the process along but, as one critic noted, “It’s certainly an interesting finding, but they have not chosen the right metal ion here – all of the evidence suggests that in the early oceans iron and nickel were high in concentration but zinc was low.”

Apparently, a thesis of this type was called zinc world when it surfaced in 2009. It’ll need to take a number for better service.

As I noted at Evolution News & Views, maybe if we throw enough models at the origin of life… some of them will stick?

Numerous less publicized models wallop through the science press, on the hope, perhaps, of a lucky strike: For example, not-obviously-promising substances such as hydrogen, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, or peptides, possibly kick started life. Maybe metals acted as catalysts. Or mica sheets. Otherwise, cold temperatures or ice helped life get started, despite the fact that cold reduces chemical reaction speed. Or a high salt environment. Or hot springs. No surprise that science writer Colin Barras observes that origin of life is “a highly polarised field of research.” Most fields have only two poles, not twenty. More.

  See also: Science-Fictions-square.gif The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (origin of life)

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