Indian-Origin Scientist Proposes New ‘Origin Of Life’

There are several theories on the origin of life from inorganic substances. Now, an Indian-origin scientist has proposed a new ‘origin of life’ theory.

The origin of life on Earth. While there are many hypotheses, a scientist of Indian descent working in the USA has put forth a fresh set of “origins of life” that involve chemical reactions that can result in the growth of amino acids – the building blocks of proteins and DNA – from chemicals and gases present on ancient Earth, reports the Deccan Herald.

Earth was lifeless and completely covered in water four billion years ago, when it appeared radically different. Life gradually developed in that abiotic mix over the period of millions of years.

There are several theories on the origin of life from inorganic substances. Now, a group at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, led by Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy has uncovered a new series of chemical reactions that utilize cyanide, ammonia, and carbon dioxide — all substances believed to have been present on the early earth — to produce amino acids and nucleic acids, which serve as the building blocks of proteins and DNA.

According to Krishnamurthy, the study’s primary author, “we came up with a new paradigm to explain such a shift from pre-biotic to biotic chemistry.”

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“The experiments led to the formation of the amino acids that are produced by the modern citric acid cycle – glycine, alanine, aspartic acid and glutamic acid. In modern biology, amino acids are converted to proteins by polymerisation and also to nucleobases,” Krishnamurthy, who graduated from Vivekananda College in Chennai and received his M.Sc from IIT-Bombay, told DH.

The experiment also needed water, which was plentiful on the carth, and a molecule called alpha keto acid, which may have been created by chemical reactions involving carbon dioxide and ultraviolet radiation.

When enzymes and nitrogen are present in cells, alpha keto acids serve as the building blocks from which amino acids are formed.

Aleksandr Oparin of Russia and J. B. S. Haldane of England each put out the hypothesis that life on Earth might have developed from non-living matter through a process known as “gradual chemical evolution” in the 1920s.

Three decades later, in 1953, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey proved that it was conceivable to spontaneously produce the organic compounds necessary for life on the primordial planet.

Krishnamurthy, his colleagues Sunil Pulletikurti and Mahipal Yadav, as well as Greg Springsteen from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, made the decision to use cyanide to trigger chemical reactions that can transform prebiotic molecules and water into fundamental organic compounds necessary for life in their quest to find an answer to one of the most critical questions.

They took their inspiration from prior successes using cyanide as a catalyst for other chemical reactions. It was planned to test cyanide, devoid of enzyme, to see if it may aid in converting alpha-keto acids into amino acids.

They added ammonia, a type of nitrogen that would have been available on the early earth, because they knew nitrogen would be needed in some form. The third essential component was later identified through trial and error as carbon dioxide. The group noticed the production of amino acids with this combination.

This reaction functioned across a broad acid-base range at room temperature, in contrast to earlier suggested processes.

“We were expecting it to be quite difficult to figure out, but it turned out to be even simpler than we had imagined,” said Krishnamurthy. “If you mix only the keto acid, cyanide and ammonia, it just sits there. As soon as you add carbon dioxide, even trace amounts, the reaction picks up speed.”

The newfound reaction is more probable to be the origin of early life than radically different interactions, the researchers argue, because it is pretty similar to what happens inside cells today—with the exception that it is driven by cyanide instead of a protein.

The study, which was just published in Nature Chemistry, also contributes to reconciling opposing viewpoints on the topic of carbon dioxide’s significance for the development of early life by coming to the conclusion that it is vital, but only when combined with other molecules.

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  1. Ammonia CO2 cyanide etc are toxic to life. It is a surprise to me that they are the key ingredients for the origin of life on the earth!

  2. Spontaneous generation (a disproven medieval theory) breathes new life. “Just giv’em time”. Next: medical “doctors” telling you quicksilver, arsenic and tobacco really does good to you, JUST GIVE THEM TIME.

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