Life on Earth began billions of years ago. Unfortunately, none of us were around to see it. As such, we still have a few details that need to be worked out, but we are moving ever closer to a complete understanding of how life evolved on our planet. Case in point: a recent study indicates that the chemical components that were crucial to the start of life on Earth may have assisted one another in ways we didn’t previously envision.

As we understand it, life began when nucleobases (adenine, cytosine, guanine, and uracil) and the monosaccharide d-ribose were given a window of opportunity in the early years of the Earth. As our planet cooled at the end of the Late Heavy Bombardment, the conditions were just right for fatty acids to form bag-like enclosures. These were perfect conditions for the formation of RNA (or ribonucleic acid) via the A, C, G, U bases and d-ribose.The previous breakdown is the essence of it. This may sound complex, but for those who find this old hat, you may criticize the oversimplification.


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This process has gotten a recent buff in evidential backing based on the research done at the University of Washington by Sarah Keller and Roy Black. The paper they published provides a little more insight into the awe-inspiring simplicity of the building blocks of all things.

Their findings state that the fatty decanoic acid binds more readily to the four bases that make up RNA than all other bases tested. Excitingly, there is a bonus: the bases in RNA that like to stick to the decanoic acid also help protect the “bag” from the salty seawaters, which would otherwise cause the fatty acids to clump together, rather than forming individual cell membranes. That’s not all. The d-ribose sugar gives more protective benefits than other sugars.


It’s certainly amazing to see just how fast and how easily, given the right conditions and materials, that life emerges. And if it’s even easier than we thought because of the affinity these sugars, nucleobases, and fatty acids have for one another, the odds of finding life in other places in the universe may have just gone up. If you obsess over all things astrobiology the way I do, join me as I beam with a complete, happy radiance.

The paper, called "Nucleobases bind to and stabilize aggregates of a prebiotic amphiphile, providing a viable mechanism for the emergence of protocells," can be read here.

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