Discovery Supports a Surprising New View of How Life on Earth Originated

Newly described chemical reaction could have assembled DNA building blocks before life forms and their enzymes existed.

Discovery boosts theory that life on our planet arose from RNA-DNA mix.

Chemists at Scripps Research have made a discovery that supports a surprising new view of how life originated on our planet.

In a study published in the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie, they demonstrated that a simple compound called diamidophosphate (DAP), which was plausibly present on Earth before life arose, could have chemically knitted together tiny DNA building blocks called deoxynucleosides into strands of primordial DNA.

The finding is the latest in a series of discoveries, over the past several years, pointing to the possibility that DNA and its close chemical cousin RNA arose together as products of similar chemical reactions, and that the first self-replicating molecules — the first life forms on Earth — were mixes of the two.

The discovery may also lead to new practical applications in chemistry and biology, but its main significance is that it addresses the age-old question of how life on Earth first arose. In particular, it paves the way for more extensive studies of how self-replicating DNA-RNA mixes could have evolved and spread on the primordial Earth and ultimately seeded the more mature biology of modern organisms.

“This finding is an important step toward the development of a detailed chemical model of how the first life forms originated on Earth,” says study senior author Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, PhD, associate professor of chemistry at Scripps Research.

The finding also nudges the field of origin-of-life chemistry away from the hypothesis that has dominated it in recent decades: The “RNA World” hypothesis posits that the first replicators were RNA-based, and that DNA arose only later as a product of RNA life forms.

Is RNA too sticky?

Krishnamurthy and others have doubted the RNA World hypothesis in part because RNA molecules may simply have been too “sticky” to serve as the first self-replicators.

A strand of RNA can attract other individual RNA building blocks, which stick to it to form a sort of mirror-image strand — each building block in the new strand binding to its complementary building block on the original, “template” strand. If the new strand can detach from the template strand, and, by the same process, start templating other new strands, then it has achieved the feat of self-replication that underlies life.

But while RNA strands may be good at templating complementary strands, they are not so good at separating from these strands. Modern organisms make enzymes that can force twinned strands of RNA — or DNA — to go their separate ways, thus enabling replication, but it is unclear how this could have been done in a world where enzymes didn’t yet exist.

A chimeric workaround

Krishnamurthy and colleagues have shown in recent studies that “chimeric” molecular strands that are part DNA and part RNA may have been able to get around this problem, because they can template complementary strands in a less-sticky way that permits them to separate relatively easily.

The chemists also have shown in widely cited papers in the past few years that the simple ribonucleoside and deoxynucleoside building blocks, of RNA and DNA respectively, could have arisen under very similar chemical conditions on the early Earth.

Moreover, in 2017 they reported that the organic compound DAP could have played the crucial role of modifying ribonucleosides and stringing them together into the first RNA strands. The new study shows that DAP under similar conditions could have done the same for DNA.

“We found, to our surprise, that using DAP to react with deoxynucleosides works better when the deoxynucleosides are not all the same but are instead mixes of different DNA ‘letters’ such as A and T, or G and C, like real DNA,” says first author Eddy Jiménez, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate in the Krishnamurthy lab.

“Now that we understand better how a primordial chemistry could have made the first RNAs and DNAs, we can start using it on mixes of ribonucleoside and deoxynucleoside building blocks to see what chimeric molecules are formed — and whether they can self-replicate and evolve,” Krishnamurthy says.

He notes that the work may also have broad practical applications. The artificial synthesis of DNA and RNA — for example in the “PCR” technique that underlies COVID-19 tests — amounts to a vast global business, but depends on enzymes that are relatively fragile and thus have many limitations. Robust, enzyme-free chemical methods for making DNA and RNA may end up being more attractive in many contexts, Krishnamurthy says.

Reference: “Prebiotic Phosphorylation and Concomitant Oligomerization of Deoxynucleosides to form DNA” by Eddy Jiménez, Clémentine Gibard and Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, 15 December 2020, Angewandte Chemie.
DOI: 10.1002/anie.202015910

Funding was provided by the Simons Foundation.

DNAGeneticsPopularRNAScripps Research Institute
Comments ( 74 )
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  • karlo sostaric

    Bravo, bravo, bravo!!!
    Sincerely, Sostaric

  • Peter M Foster

    Electromagnetic energy, the flow of which depends upon the orbit, the motion, of the proton, the tritium, the gathering about of its branches the sight of life, the helio strand if you eat t, like a snowflake forming in its place, the connections like a synapse continuing to yield yet another symbiotic relation with the matter of its place. The ladder would be unable to stand if the multitude of vectors were not available, and so a two dimensional stra d not able to stand, but similar to a dipole the matter in between. Like a tilde, and the rotation of the cube, a metatron, the measure of our sight. I like the diagram. Imagine an environment similarly enlightened. Peace.

  • jason roberts

    If this proves to be the case, it has huge implications to finding life elsewhere.

    If we could know how life started here, we could give a probability to it starting on other planets.

  • hosea Imani

    intellectual nonsense, an abuse of ones intellect, product of a lazy mind,

    • Torbjörn Larsson

      You are referencing your own comment, I expect?

      • Daniel

        LMAO

  • Andre H

    Seriously, the best mathematicians and biochemists in the world egg knowledge that you are a complete nut job if you think life arose by itself. Do you have any idea the astronomically ridiculous odds of even one protein forming on its own? Much less staying in existence without oxidizing. We are talking about myth and fantasy land past that. The universe would have decayed to nothing before even one could form, much less 256 of them and they magically come together on their own to form the simplest life we know… and then reproduction? Haha…

    • Richard E

      Can you name those “best mathematicians and biochemists” who acknowledge that you have to be a nut job in an attempt to understand where life arose? I would suggest that it has been myth and fantasy that has been the prevailing explanation for life for most of human history.

      • Murray Garrett

        Thank you.couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • MuTru

      Your personal incredulity is not evidence of anything other than your own limited experience.

    • BRAD E

      Andre – You are spot on. And evolution is a fairy tale for grown-ups. It’s not science.

      • Torbjörn Larsson

        Evolution has been a science for 2 centuries [“https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution ].

        It takes anyone about half an hour to test that it works through a free genome database site such as NCBI.

  • Stan Chrzanowski

    It is possible that life is just a natural condition, much like the growth of a crystal. Given over 13 billion years and an almost infinite number of worlds (very large laboratories) conducting experiments, I would assume that even intelligent life should have evolved somewhere billions of years ago. But crossing the expanse is a difficult proposition. We may learn the secret of our origin but it will eventally pass on as we will. Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind.

    • Ralph Dratman

      I’ve been thinking about that recently, trying to get used to the idea that not only will I die but also my civilization and eventually my species will also inevitably die. It is a new way of thinking for me, and surprisingly eases my feeling of guilt that my species is wrecking the planetary ecosystem.

      • nhop

        There is nothing “inevitable” about the demise of our species…it is up to us..

  • Antonio Caballero

    A Designer welded (fused) DNA and RNA specifically coded with all instructions to arise all living organisms.

    • MuTru

      Your superstitious answer does pretty much zero to advance the envelope of our understanding of these natural processes. If you prefer to crawl back into the dark ages and whisper “god did it” over an over whenever you see something you don’t understand, feel free. But the rest of us prefer to move forward.

      • Missouri astronomer

        I love how science works, a test has to be repeatable under exact conditions to be proven a fact. On the other hand, I hate how science works in these cases. For those of you bashing religion but believe in science, if I may.
        There is zero tests that can be done where we mimic the exact atmosphere at the beginning of Earth and hatch these proteins in. Why? We have no idea what the exact conditions where, we can just guess. Most science lovers miss the fact they are just choosing to believe something other than god, but still doing the same as people who choose to believe in god. Are you the ones doing these tests, or are you just believing what someone has written down? Can we ever truly preform this test accurately, or like so many of our computer models, will this all change as we get more information?
        I leave you religion bashers with two remarks, first, what belief and faith you have in science is just that, thus you are no better than a mindless godhead until you open your eyes to this and stop trying to convince people they are wrong for believing something you don’t. Second, ponder this one please; Show me the evidence that a higher being didn’t create everything to look like it was really old, when infact it is indeed only 10thousand years old. I mean, it created this all, surely it would be smart enough to know to make everything look older than it was if it’s trying to play that off to instill doubt.
        I am by no way trying to tell anyone what to believe, but I do myself believe as a scientist that science is not black and white, and as such there will be no right or wrong answer. After all, right and wrong are usually just in the eyes of the beholder. Be nice to one another, respect each other’s beliefs and try to understand them instead of bash them.

        • Torbjörn Larsson

          You can have your own opinion (beliefs), but you can’t have your own facts. Whether or not you accept science is up to you, but it works anyway.

          We now know how life evolved: https://www.nature.com/articles/nmicrobiol2016116 .

          Yes, cosmology killed ‘gods’ magic 2018. With space flat, total energy is well defined in cosmology and we have a constraint showing us if there is magic at work – it isn’t.

      • Sps

        God’s
        not dead

  • Bruce K

    Creating RNA soup does not give life to the mix. The amount of code required for 1 human DNA is the equivalent of all written material ever produced. Praise God. Code, really, as in programmed with incredible fidelity and repair.

    • Torbjörn Larsson

      Evolution has no creationist ‘code’ – it is a natural process.

      • Victor

        Your face is a natural process

  • Pieter

    What are the mathematically calculated odds of “accidental” formation and combination of ADP and ATP strands, given the number of variables available?
    I believe it was calculated by Mr. A. Einstein to be something in in the region of one quadrillionth or 1/1000000000000000000.
    Ad to the equation the chance of an accidental formation of an environment with all the required components which was calculated by the same person to be in the region of 1/10 000000000000000000 or one over ten quadrillion.
    Putting actual numbers to the equation brings at least some food for thought.

    • Boris

      I see the creationists are in a panic as the last gap to squeeze their god in must got plugged. LOL

    • Jnukem

      However divide that by known time evolved from the big bang forward and that figure diminishes. Time creates, time erases.

    • Torbjörn Larsson

      What are the odd that you would result from a population? Yet it happened.

      Evolution has a likelihood of 1, since it is observed. Superstition has a likelihood of 0, since it doesn’t work.

    • Victor

      Atheistic Darwinists won’t be convinced by your promoting contrary ideas, no matter how rational or worthy of discussion. They are the most faith-based sorts of people who violently and close-mindedly resist any suggestions apart from their accepted narrative and blindly swallow whatever the newest science purports to show. This discussion thread feels a lot like the dregs of Twitter. Good job people.

  • Papelo

    Enter the mythology supporters which nothing more than opinions. Knowing that “religious scientists” don’t have any demonstrable evidences to support the supernatural the best arguments they Cone up with are apologistic in nature. A designer opinion is a false equivalency at best.

  • Duane E Martin

    Soooooo…. nothing definitive here except the lack of admission that a creator could, may, might, plausibly, possibly have established life.
    Almost every paragraph in the article included a modal verb…. nothing definitive.
    The truth is out there, and closer to you than you think.

    • MuTru

      If you can’t face reality and prefer only certainties, then you’d best retreat to the fictional world created by superstitions. Those give you clear, comfortable, unequivocal answers to everything. Never mind they’re almost always wrong.

    • Torbjörn Larsson

      Evolution – and in general, scinec – excludes magic yes. Is that news to you?

      • Torbjörn Larsson

        “scinec” = science.

  • Tom B

    Odds are of no importance, the universe has almost infinite time to have created life. So regardless of the doubts saying it’s imposible it happened and the chances of it being a magical sky fairy are even lower.

  • Blake

    Honestly people saying your a nut job to think life evolved but honestly those who think a higher power (that’s never been proven) put us on earth is even more crazy

  • Jeff

    In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth…

    Many have tried and many have failed to say otherwise

    • Torbjörn Larsson

      Cosmologists have said else for a century, as has planetary scientists. They have the evidence for it.

      On the other hand, superstition has no evidence.

      • Victor

        Your face has no evidence

  • Stephen P. OMONDI

    I don’t what to say. I am a wannabe Neurosurgeon albeit still at my primodial stage.
    Therefore, attempting to post my unguarded thoughts on this wall, where people I so much respect, have freely given their intellect, would be absurd or preposterous or both.

    NB. May somebone tell me how I could get admission at the Harvard Medical School in the US of A!

    Eng. Stephen P. OMONDI, PE
    Professional Civil Engineer & an Author,
    P. O. Box 37603 – 00100
    Nairobi, Kenya.

    +254 750560637

  • Cmogruder

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

    When you believe you understand. When you do not believe, you chase your tail…

    • Torbjörn Larsson

      Superstition.

  • Aaron Many Guns

    God was created in man’s image by ” the chosen people “. At least that’s what we’re supposed to believe and understand…

  • Kees water

    Wat een ongelofelijke fantasie zeg, het is overduidelijk dat alles gecreëerd is en niet uit het niets alles is ontstaan miljarden jaren geleden.

    Complexiteit kan nooit ontstaan uit het niets.

    Daar is intelligentie voor nodig, netzoals mensen menen dat een GEN-TEST op het bevolking willen storten om ons DNA menen te veranderen is puur fictive evolutie theorie gedachte.

    Alles waar mensen met ons DNA,van planten tot dieren wordt verkloot, is puur gedrag van humanisten die God haten.

    Jullie kunnen niet beter maken dan orgineel mensen.

    Onze Aarde en heel universum is door Heere God gecreëerd in 6 Dagen tijd.

    En jullie humanisten willen dat ontkennen, ongelooflijk dat jullie de creatie van Heere God willen vernietigen met jullie immoreel gedrag en handelingen.

  • xABBAAA

    … how emergence works…

  • TJD

    Nothing created something? I guess we can create life without Male and Female now? First the Big Bang, than we come from animals, and now the human body created itself. Science is what makes GOD’S word real. Pure foolishness (Blasphemy at its best). Like John The Baptist said REPENT for the Kingdom of GOD is near. Good thing GOD loves everyone.

    Hypothetically speaking:
    If I walked into a Library and I saw books on the bookshelves I guess I’m supposed to believe that the printer exploded and put the books on the shelves itself?

    • Richard E

      Well according to your mindset a God ( naturally it is the one you believe in) appeared from nothing and supposedly created everything..so in what way is that any different from what you are attempting to dis? Was god the product of a male and female coupling? If you can claim that God is eternal then it can also be claimed, with the same amount of evidence, that the universe is eternal and as such did not need a’creator. We did not come from animals..we are animals of course, but if you read a little about evolution it would help you get a better understanding of what science has discovered.

    • Torbjörn Larsson

      Superstition.

      And FWIW, science was that killed superstition 2018 – we now know that the entire universe is a result of a natural process.

  • Theengineer

    I see in the comments that magic is needed to form life, the magic of the great invisible sky wizard.

  • JNukem

    This planet was seeded millions of years ago by distance aliens that knew space travel was to slow so they sent the building blocks that crashed down on this planet and started the slow process of life and decay of this planet. Now all we have to do is replicate that action and inoculate distant planets that look favorable to support life as we know it.

    • Torbjörn Larsson

      Superstition.

    • Not buying it.

      Hey, wasn’t that the storyline of the movie Prometheus? At least be original with your magical thinking.

  • Grimstock

    This is great! If this is correct it will help us better calculate the probability of life on other worlds. Personally I think life is highly likely. Earth is a bit of a hell hole and life thrives here. Our atmosphere is highly corrosive and can reduce steel to dust in a very short time. 75% of the surface is an acid bath. Earth is the only planet that we know of where fire exists. Life, including humans, need planet excrement to exists. We need bio-mechanoid environment suits (skin) to protect our innards from exposure to the highly toxic atmosphere. Yet we need to parse the oxygen, that is the toxic bit, to aid in the creation of ATP in our mitochondria so we can live. If Earth can have thriving life, I think the odds are mighty high that billions of other worlds have thriving life.

  • Danny

    This is nothing but Lies!!! Its a shame others believe crap like this but this so called america now days has gone to the dogs!!! GOD created this world Peroid!! One day and I think soon you’ll know who did when you have to face him!!

    • Torbjörn Larsson

      Superstition.

  • Lynn Smith

    After All:
    Even a beetle has consciousness;
    of which we are silent!

  • Ignoramus Erectus

    There’s an abundance of invisible life here (and out there) we have yet to discover. The god theory is an overly simplistic explanation designed to calm & control the minds of our ignorant species. Given the description of god’s personality in the old testament, I’d say a future rogue scientist time traveled, experimented, and let his ego go wild. The rest is history as we know it.

    • Torbjörn Larsson

      Superstition.

  • Deiler

    They will never prove evolution or any other crazy idea, there is one simple answer:GOD , just read the Bible and you will find the answer.

    • Torbjörn Larsson

      Science works. Superstitiuon doesn’t.

      • Victor

        Your face doesn’t work

  • Tom Nguyen

    The hsn concept of life never exists anywhere in the infinite space of the the universe. The term closer to being parallel to objective reality is “existence or matters or being ” but not “life”
    Every form of existence in the universe is nothing else other than a representation of energy , and energy always is transfotmed or like tye law if conservation of energy , it can never be created nor lost, but it is always transformed from one form of existence into anothetr form of existence. It means that every form of existence in the universe has an age or s limited period of time if existence in their current forms of existence, including the Sun, the Moon, he Earth and all the beings on it, this lost system , this galaxy and all other forms of existence either observable or unobservable or unknowable unknown to human limited knowledge
    Every form of existence originate in the formation of atoms , then molecules no matter whatever it is which is nothing new
    The only one thing still new or unknowable unknown to human limited knowledge or ignorance of the structure and mechanism of the universe is what constitute sub-atomic particles which seem to be the smallest things in structures of matters to human limited at the time being when all human beings are still on the way of evolution or developments to higher and higher levels of civilization on the endless journey toward the absolute truth or the origin of everything. The human journey toward the absolute truth has no beginning nor any end , like the infinite space of the universe simply because when human beings first appeared on this planet , the universe had been existing for an undefineably long period of time , and the Earth will be transformed into another form of existence before human journey toward the absolute truth can take human beings to the highest level of civilization
    By tye way the human concept of time never exists anywhere in the universe either, except withing human limited knowledge or subjective interpretation of what they can observe in the universe and their limited space which is observable to their limited knowledge

    • Torbjörn Larsson

      Word salad.

  • Torbjörn Larsson

    “But while RNA strands may be good at templating complementary strands, they are not so good at separating from these strands. Modern organisms make enzymes that can force twinned strands of RNA—or DNA—to go their separate ways, thus enabling replication, but it is unclear how this could have been done in a world where enzymes didn’t yet exist.”

    RNA – and DNA – strands separates readily during heating, double strands “melt” [“Melting curve analysis” @ Wikipedia] which is used in the common method of PCR replication [“Polymerase chain reaction” @ Wikipedia].

    The reason to use workarounds is to promote a cold, wet biochemistry hypothesis for evolution instead of ocean hydrothermal vent evolution [ https://www.natur…l2016116 ].

    But such “one pot” vent geology environments do replicate strands [ https://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.125.048104 ] and would explain why we see RNA – which melt at 70 degC of vents – rather than harder to produce but easier to melt at 50 degC DNA at the genetic machinery core.

    “We present a pointed heat source that drives exponential, RNA-catalyzed amplification of short RNA with high efficiency in a confined chamber. While shorter strands were periodically melted by laminar convection, the temperature gradient caused aggregated polymerase molecules to accumulate, protecting them from degradation in hot regions of the chamber. These findings demonstrate a size-selective pathway for autonomous RNA-based replication in natural nonequilibrium conditions.”

  • SAbner

    Perception is 95% of the truth. You believe what you want to believe and disregard the rest.

  • Lukifer

    To those here supposing that ‘god’ did it and is the only answer to everything: why are you here? It’s fairly obvious that this material is well beyond your grasp. You’re offering nothing but outdated concepts and the occasional chuckle… Please crawl back under whatever pew you came from.

  • Guitartrip

    Come on we all know (or should know) that the sub conscious is the template for “God”…. We all have it, and every individual has there own very personal connection to it, oh yea…it is all knowing too. However, society today has the freedom to choose their own mindset. All I ask of all of us is this…choose whatever you want, just make it work for you. Truth is we have a very short time to be alive. Just be happy with who and what you are.

  • DoudnaJ

    If we just believe God did it, science will never evolve.

  • Ruth

    Two words: Irreducible complexities. Design indicates that there is a designer. Most mutations are destructive.
    Evolution (macro) is a fairy tale for adults, especially for those who don’t want to be accountable to a holy God who they think He wants to take away all fun and joy in life. They don’t realize how much God loves them and wants them to have an abundant life having sent His Son to take the judgment that we deserved for breaking the moral law (10 commandments) upon Himself on the cross. When we repent of our sins and trust in what He did for us, we become part of His family. If you sincerely want to know whether He’s real or not, just ask Him to show you if He is real. If He is real and you reject Him, you face a frightening eternity. If He’s not real, then you haven’t lost anything. I’ve found that He is real and I wouldn’t want to live life without Him.

  • xABBAAA

    … if the word “arose” is exchanged with a “emergence” then I would attempt to read it, this way, no way…
    … Yeah, it ends with something from nothing, and scientists have killed the God. So! There will be no help from the one Newton mentioned, …

    … I guess, some still needs to be left to: Magic(no that from LA Lakers), God(the one that is killed by modern science), etc…

  • Anita talbert

    Try taking an unassembled watch Put it in a jar with a lid all the pieces. You can shake that jar up forever and it will never reassemble itself into a watch .. it took an intelligent mind to make that watch intricate detail the universe and the Earth had to be created by a highly functioning intelligent source.the Bible Gods word..stated the earth is round centuries before Christopher Columbus discovered this already stated fact in the Bible..surely anyone who ever read the Bible knew it was there..and concerning life after death..when the tombs of the Egyptians were opened..the boat for their afterlife journey was still in the tomb..with the body and the petrified food..the Bible says when you die you are in a sleep like state..you dont think or remember a thing ecclesiastes chap 9 verses 5 and 10.the Bible is truthful in all aspects..questions arise..why were we created..why do we suffer and die..will the dead live again..whst is the purpose of life..is there hope for those who long for perfect ideal conditions..there are many religions out there all believing..what they want to brlieve..there is only one truth and one God..his name is Jehovah psalms 83 18.go to jw.org and find answers to questions about our exsistance..using the Bible as the main source learn about the one who made dna..chromosomes. the universe. We love and have emotions because we were created in his image.you will find the truth about life and find inner peace and eternal happiness..search for this knowledge it is a priceless treasure very few find…..and very few are willing to search for..

  • Larry -follower of Jesus Christ

    God has no beginning and will never have an ending . Why haven’t all you intelligent evolution believing scientist and chemist figured out how to keep your bodies from turning back into dust one day in the near future ? What would be the odds that God can keep us around forever after he gives those that believe in his son , who died on the cross and was resurrected three days later ? Those that follow any other gods or no God will never get that chance to be forgiven of all their unbelief and superstitions !!! Think on that if you can . GOD is love and even loves those that is confused .

  • wayne street

    This is some of the most interesting research on the planet currently. Albert Einstein said the purpose of science is to know the thoughts of God. Everything else is mere detail.
    Due to my own research, experimentations and extrapolations in the 1970’s, I came to the conclusion that ultimately science would prove God, and God would prove science. It will be as it says in the Bible, that no one will need to try to convince one another about God, because everyone will know.
    God will be taught as science at an early age.