Tuesday, November 15, 2016
On the Origin of Life: Studying how the First Biomolecule Self-Replicated
Researchers propose that RNA is the "mother" molecule that led to the formation of life. In order to reproduce; plants, animals and other organisms need to make copies of their DNA and pass it on to the next generation. This is possible with the aid of enzymes and through Watson-Crick Base Pairing (genetic material is made up of nucleotide bases which match to one another in a specific order). Scientists hypothesize that before life began, there had to be one molecule that was able to replicate without any help. They suspect that this molecule is RNA due to its ability to specific base-pairing like DNA, and catalyzing reactions like an enzyme. Jack Szostak and colleagues used X-ray crystallography to monitor how free nucleotides interacted with a short piece of RNA. They did this to investigate how RNA matches up with free base pairs. The RNA formed the expected Watson-Crick pairs as well as other different match ups that may have stopped replication. This information led scientists to believe that steps toward life may have taken much longer than expected.