The original recipe for gene soup may have been simple — rain, a jumble of common molecules, warm sunshine, and nighttime cooling. Then add a pinch of thickener.
The last ingredient may have helped gene-like strands to copy themselves in puddles for the first time ever, billions of years ago when Earth was devoid of life, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have found. Their novel discoveries add to a growing body of evidence that suggests first life may have evolved with relative ease, here and possibly elsewhere in the universe.
Then they added an off-the-shelf thickener.
Easy is crucial, said Martha Grover, a professor who oversaw the research at Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Easy reactions are likely to be more productive and more prevalent.
“A simple and robust process like this one could have operated in a variety of environments and concentrations making it more realistic in moving evolution forward,” she said.
“Considering a pre-biotic soup, it’s probably messy; it’s got a lot of impurities,” Christine He said. “When we first started out with more impure nucleotides, it still worked. Maybe the same reaction really could have happened in a messy puddle billions of years ago.” [colour emphasis added] Paper. (paywall) – Christine He, Isaac Gállego, Brandon Laughlin, Martha A. Grover and Nicholas V. Hud. A viscous solvent enables information transfer from gene-length nucleic acids in a model prebiotic replication cycle. Nature Chemistry, 2016 DOI: 10.1038/nchem.2628 More.
That is not a discovery; it is a speculation. Note the conditional “may have” and “could have.”
Two problems dog this kind of research. A demand for naturalism-based only approaches means that a not-completely-wrong speculation counts as a finding.
Not insurmountable as such, except for this: Current science does not encourage replication research. Thus it is hard to clear the zone of a clutter of unreplicated speculation.
These primal soup wars have been going on for some time. Recent entries include
Protein-like structures found in the primordial soup?
Hot news: Hydrothermal vents top primordial soup
See also: What we know and don’t know about the origin of life
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