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Molecules that gave birth to life itself recreated

Last Updated: Monday, January 30, 2012 - 17:37

London: Scientists have for the first time recreated sugar molecules that gave birth to life itself, a breakthrough they say could soon lead them to understanding the origin of life better.
Researchers at the University of York and the University of Nottingham have recreated a pair of simple sugars molecules -- threose and erythrose -- in a process which could have occurred before the advent of life.

Dr Paul Clarke, who led the research, said they have made the first step towards showing how the basic building blocks of life developed.

"There are a lot of fundamental questions about the origins of life and many people think they are questions about biology," Dr Clarke said.

"But for life to have evolved, you have to have a moment when non-living things become living - everything up to that point is chemistry. We are trying to understand the chemical origins of life," he was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

According to the researchers, every biological molecule has an ability to exist in a left-handed form or right-handed form. All sugars in biology are made up of the right-handed form of molecules and yet all the amino acids that make up the peptides and proteins are made up of the left-handed form.

But, they found using simple left-handed amino acids to catalyse the formation of sugars resulted in the production of the predominantly right-handed form of sugars.

The finding, published in journal `Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry`, could explain how carbohydrates originated and why the right-handed form dominates in nature, they said.

Dr Clarke said: "For life to have evolved, you have to
have a moment when non-living things become living, everything
up to that point is chemistry.

"One of the interesting questions is where carbohydrates come from because they are the building blocks of DNA and RNA.

What we have achieved is the first step on that pathway to show how simple sugars -- threose and erythrose -- originated.

"We generated these sugars from a very simple set of materials that most scientists believe were around at the time that life began."

The research has echoes of the landmark Miller-Urey study in 1952, which simulated hypothetical conditions that may have been present on early Earth.

It showed how the building blocks of life can form from simple chemical reactions - for example, electrical activity like that associated with lightning can prompt the formation of amino acids.


First Published: Monday, January 30, 2012 - 17:37

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