The Two Faces of RNA
Scientists at Howard Hughes Medical Institute are closing in on how life arose from inorganic material. RNA was first thought to be essentially a way of storing the genetic information need to build proteins. But Tom Cech and Sidney Altman discovered in the 1980s that RNA can catalyze cellular chemical reactions. This led some scientist to speculate that RNA may have come before DNA. RNA may be one of the "missing-links" in the evolution of DNA from simple chemicals.
Life from Clay
Dr. Jack W. Szostak and his team looked at montmorillonite, a clay mixture that existed in the early Earth, and discovered that it helped
- the formation of vesicles (a small fluid filled sac) formed from fatty acids,
- the formation of RNA, and
- RNA to move into the vesicles (the RNA stuck to the clay and "rode" it into the vesicles.
So, the creation myths that involve life being formed from clay may be on to something after all.
The above chemical processes ended up creating a cell-like structure. Life is a natural result of certain chemical processes that build on each other. A watery terrestrial planet in a habitable zone will have weathering of rocks, forming clay. If the laws of chemistry are the same throughout the universe (or even in just our galactic region), then life will arise on more than just our planet.
"HHMI Scientist Bio: Jack W. Szostak, Ph.D." HHMI Investigators. Scientists and Research. Howard Hughes Medical Institute. n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2009. <http://www.hhmi.org/research/investigators/szostak_bio.html>