Talk about "accelerating knowledge!" 20 years ago this would have been the greatest story since the discovery of DNA, but these days it’s just this week’s news…
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: My fellow scienti…
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: …tists – and neurosurgeons, ladies and gentlemen. A few short weeks ago, coming from a background, believe me, as conservative and traditionally grounded in scientific fact as any of you, I began an experiment in, incredulous as it may sound, the reanimation of dead tissue.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: LIFE! DO YOU HEAR ME? GIVE ME MY CREATION… LIFE
(Young Frankenstein, 1974)
A recent Wired article announces the experiment as “Life’s First Spark.” To read some of the blog comments, you’d think the researchers were trained by Dr. Frankenstein himself. It does indeed support the case for the evolution of living cells from inorganic matter.
But no, Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) is not life itself. It is, however, important in translating instructions from DNA gene sequences into proteins, the building blocks of cells and tissues.
Led by organic chemist John Sutherland at the University of Manchester, a team of researchers synthesized the basic ingredients of RNA using laboratory conditions resembling those of the life-originating “warm little pond” hypothesized by Charles Darwin – it “evaporated, got heated, and then it rained and the sun shone.”
The resulting peer-reviewed study in Nature builds on work originally done in Stanley Miller’s famous experiments many years ago. Miller used water along with methane, ammonia and hydrogen – the kinds of gases then thought to have dominated the Earth’s oxygen-free atmosphere more than two billion years ago –- to create a primordial stew.
Sutherland’s team included phosphate in their mix, but rather than adding it to sugars and nucleobases, they started with an array of even simpler molecules that were probably also in Earth’s primordial stew.
They mixed the molecules in water, heated the solution, then allowed it to evaporate, leaving behind a residue of hybrid, half-sugar, half-nucleobase molecules. To this residue they again added water, heated it, allowed it evaporate, and then irradiated it.
At each stage of the cycle, the resulting molecules were more complex. At the final stage, Sutherland’s team added phosphate. “Remarkably, it transformed into the ribonucleotide!” said Sutherland.