Research into the conditions under which life originally formed has given scientists a lot of tantalizing clues in recent years, but a new discovery made by chemists of The Scripps Research Institute may actually hold the answer of how life was created. The team’s work was published in a new paper in the journal Nature.

The study answers one of the most puzzling questions that scientists have had regarding the formation of the basic building blocks of living cells. By discovering that a compound which could have feasibly existed on Earth during the timeframe life is thought to have first formed, and proving that the compound can produce the molecules necessary to create the building blocks of cells, the research could very well be the answer to the greatest “how?” that mankind has ever known. 

Put simply, scientists have long thought that the origins of life would require three specific things: nucleosides to form RNA, fatty acids that provide the structure of cells, and amino acids which do the heavy lifting work for living cells. However, for those three things to exist, researchers believed a chemical reaction known as phosphorylation would have to take place, and they didn’t know of any compound that could have existed on early Earth to perform that crucial duty.

The chemists from Scripps discovered just that, and demonstrated that diamidophosphate (called DAP for short) is both capable and may well have been present when it was needed. “We suggest a phosphorylation chemistry that could have given rise, all in the same place, to oligonucleotides, oligopeptides, and the cell-like structures to enclose them,” study author Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy explains. “That in turn would have allowed other chemistries that were not possible before, potentially leading to the first simple, cell-based living entities.”

If the compound produced pre-biological molecules under the right conditions, it may have spawns the very first living things on Earth. As those early lifeforms grew in complexity, evolution would have taken over, and before you know it there’s fleshy creatures sitting in front of computer screens. Isn’t nature awesome?

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