MRC Scientists Say New Research May Finally Unlock the Mystery of How Life Began on Earth

  |   Tech News

If you don't buy into the theory of asteroid-driven panspermia, there's another theory for how life developed from Earth's primordial soup of chemicals: RNA. Like DNA but simpler (and made of only one strand), RNA has the ability to fold itself into three-dimensional shapes and create chemical reactions, but the one thing it can't do when folded is replicate itself. Without folding itself, however, RNA can't do much of anything.

When an RNA strand folds itself into a three-dimensional shape, it's able to create an enzyme called a ribozyme. The normal way to carry out self-replication is to add the chemical bases (adenine, guanine, etc.) to a strand of RNA one at a time, but a team of scientists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology have created a new type of ribozyme that adds new bases three at a time. This allows RNA to pull off the long-sought-after ability to replicate three-dimensional versions of itself and provide a model for how life may have began on early Earth. There's only one issue: nothing living on Earth now replicates like this.

This either means humans have created a totally new method for RNA to reproduce itself, or the secret of RNA replication was biologically lost eons ago. Or, perhaps even more tantalizing, RNA found another way to transform itself from being a string of chemicals to a rudimentary form of life, and we've just stumbled across an alternate method. Either way, it's a major leap forward for biology, as well as biotech and medicine.

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