WorldA new series of chemical reactions could finally explain...

A new series of chemical reactions could finally explain how life on earth originated

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Once, when our planet Earth was very young, there was not even a trace of life on it. Then, with the help of chemistry, the molecular building blocks of our first single-celled ancestors were created: Amino acids and nucleic acids, which came together in a chain reaction that gave rise to life.

The details of this phenomenon, which occurred billions of years ago and left no trace in the fossil record, are not entirely clear to us. But using our knowledge of early Earth chemistry, scientists have discovered a new set of chemical reactions that may have produced these basic biological elements on Earth so many years ago.

The reconstruction of how biotic chemistry might have played out is largely experimental. Scientists are taking what they know about current biological processes and trying to recreate them in the lab using the chemistry of early Earth 3.7 billion years ago, ScienceAlert writes.

There is evidence that one of the molecules present was cyanide. This molecule, while deadly, may have been essential to the origin of life on Earth. Cyanide’s role in this process has been explored by several teams around the world. Earlier this year, researchers showed how cyanide can produce basic organic molecules at room temperature and under a variety of conditions.

When a little carbon dioxide is added, this reaction really picks up speed.
This led researchers to wonder if they could replicate their success by trying to create more complex organic molecules – amino acids, which make up all the proteins in living cells.

Currently, the precursors to amino acids are molecules called α-keto acids, which react with nitrogen and enzymes to produce amino acids. Although α-keto acids likely existed on the early Earth, there were no enzymes, leading scientists to conclude that amino acids must have instead evolved from precursors called aldehydes. However, this raises a lot of other questions, such as when the α-keto acids took over.

The researchers thought that there might be a way for α-keto acids to form amino acids without the presence of enzymes.

They started with α-keto acids, of course, and added cyanide because their earlier experiments had shown it to be an efficient engine for chemical reactions that produce organic molecules.

Then they added ammonia, a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen that also occurred on early Earth, to contribute the necessary nitrogen. Finally, the key was carbon dioxide.

The team’s overall results suggest that carbon dioxide played a crucial role in the origin of life on Earth – but only when combined with other ingredients.
The team also discovered that a byproduct of their reactions is a molecule similar to a compound produced in living cells called orotate.

It is one of the building blocks of nucleic acids, including DNA and RNA.

And the team’s findings are very similar to reactions that occur in living cells today, which means the discovery would eliminate the need to explain why cells made the switch from aldehydes to α-keto acids. Therefore, the team believes that their discovery represents a more likely scenario for the origin of prebiotic molecules than the aldehyde hypothesis.

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