If you’re a scientifically minded individual then the question of how life arose is a perplexing one. We know a lot about what life requires to survive, water being the key substance to all life on earth, but how it came to be is still the subject of much debate. The theory of abiogenesis, which I personally subscribe to, posits that life arose out of the various chemical processes that were present back when our earth was just a billion years old. Then as life became more complex and organised the processes of evolution pressured by natural selection took over, sculpting life into the innumerable forms we see today. To lend credence to this theory we have to find ways in which biological processes could arise from non-biological constructs and new research has shown us just this.
Research from the university of Cambridge has managed to replicate 2 distinct metabolic pathways using metal ions that would have been present in the oceans of a young earth. The two replicated pathways were glycolysis, the process by which glucose is turned into pyruvate and releases energy to form ATP (the energy transportation mechanism for all our cells) and the pentose phosphate pathway that generates carbon sugars. The process to replicate these metabolic pathways was relatively simple, they had a solution that closely matched what we believe the early oceans of the earth were composed of and added in solutions that were known to be starters for metabolic processes. They were then subjected to conditions you’d find near a hydrothermal vent for 5 hours and the resulting solutions analysed for the resulting products. The results, whilst not being earth shattering, are incredibly intriguing as they lend credence towards certain theories about the evolution of life on earth.
Primarily it points towards early life not being reliant on ribonucleic acid (RNA) as this is currently responsible for creating many of the enzymes that speed many of the complex biological reactions that life makes use of. This research shows that these processes could have arisen by themselves without the need for RNA and could possibly be the building blocks of RNA itself. Whilst this doesn’t exactly tell us how life arose out of the primordial soup that was present on an early earth it does point towards an origin where the complex processes arose out of the primordial soup that once blanketed our earth.
Like most research of this nature whilst the results are impressive more work needs to be done to ascertain just what’s going on. The experiment has recreated the end product from a known starting state however they haven’t shown what the intermediary products are. Knowing these will give us insight into just how similar the current biological processes are to the ones created in the lab, with any discrepancies providing even more opportunity for additional research.
It’s a small step towards understanding the origins of life but a crucial one. The more we understand how life came to be here the more readily we’ll be able to identify other such places in our universe, possibly even those in our cosmic backyard. Our understanding of the origins of life are still in their infancy but we’re creating an ever more clear picture of where our distant ancestors came from.