A new clue as to how life first arose:
“It’s a chicken and egg question,” said Dr Terry Kee of the University of Leeds, who led the research. “Scientists are in disagreement over what came first — replication, or metabolism. But there is a third part to the equation — and that is energy.”
“You need enzymes to make ATP and you need ATP to make enzymes,” explained Dr Kee. “The question is: where did energy come from before either of these two things existed? We think that the answer may lie in simple molecules such as pyrophosphite which is chemically very similar to ATP, but has the potential to transfer energy without enzymes.”
The key to the battery-like properties of both ATP and pyrophosphite is an element called phosphorus, which is essential for all living things. Not only is phosphorus the active component of ATP, it also forms the backbone of DNA and is important in the structure of cell walls.
The findings, published in the journal Chemical Communications, are the first to suggest that pyrophosphite may have been relevant in the shift from basic chemistry to complex biology when life on earth began. Since completing this research, Dr Kee and his team have found even further evidence for the importance of this molecule and now hope to team up with collaborators from NASA to investigate its role in abiogenesis.
Read more about the research.