Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

The blog of Xeno, a slightly mad scientist

Chemists show precursors of life self assemble godlessly

20131024-144828.jpgHow life came about from inanimate sets of chemicals is still a mystery. While we may never be certain which chemicals existed on prebiotic Earth, we can study the biomolecules we have today to give us clues about what happened three billion years ago.

Now scientists have used a set of these biomolecules to show one way in which life might have started. They found that these molecular machines, which exist in living cells today, don’t do much on their own. But as soon as they add fatty chemicals, which form a primitive version of a cell membrane, it got the chemicals close enough to react in a highly specific manner.

This form of self-organisation is remarkable, and figuring out how it happens may hold the key to understanding life on earth formed and perhaps how it might form on other planets.

The 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was given to chemists for showing how complex molecules can perform very precise functions. One of the behaviours of these molecules is called self-organisation, where different chemicals come together because of the many forces acting on them and become a molecular machine capable of even more complex tasks. Each living cell is full of these molecular machines.

Pasquale Stano at the University of Roma Tre and his colleagues were interested in using this knowledge to probe the origins of life. To make things simple, they chose an assembly that produces proteins. This assembly consists of 83 different molecules including DNA, which was programmed to produce a special green fluorescent protein (GFP) that could be observed under a confocal microscope.

The assembly can only produce proteins when its molecules are close enough together to react with each other. When the assembly is diluted with water, they can no longer react. This is one reason that the insides of living cells are very crowded, concentrated places: to allow the chemistry of life to work.

In order to recreate this molecular crowding, Stano added a chemical called POPC to the dilute solution. Fatty molecules such as POPC do not mix with water, and when placed into water they automatically form liposomes. These have a very similar structure to the membranes of living cells and are widely used to study the evolution of cells.

Stano reports in the journal Angewandte Chemie that many of these liposomes trapped some molecules of the assembly. But remarkably, five in every 1,000 such liposomes had all 83 of the molecules needed to produce a protein. These liposomes produced large amount of GFP and glowed green under a microscope.

Computer calculations reveal that even by chance, five liposomes in 1,000 could not have trapped all 83 molecules of the assembly. Their calculated probability for even one such liposome to form is essentially zero. The fact that any such liposomes formed and that GFP was produced means something quite unique is happening.

Stano and his colleagues do not yet understand why this happened. It may yet be a random process that a better statistical model will explain. It may be that these particular molecules are suited to this kind of self-organisation because they are already highly evolved. An important next step is to see if similar, but less complex, molecules are also capable of this feat.

Regardless of the limitations, Stano’s experiment has shown for the first time that self-assembly into simple cells may be an inevitable physical process. Finding out how exactly this self-assembly happens will mean taking a big step towards understanding how life was formed. …

http://theconversation.com/chemists-show-life-on-earth-was-not-a-fluke-19452

8 comments on “Chemists show precursors of life self assemble godlessly

  1. Michael
    October 25, 2013

    Hmm… G_dlessly. Since G_d wrote the laws of physics, did the researchers venture outside the universe? The idea that any physical phenomenon can occur G_dlessly is an illusion. The Torah states this as such.

    • Michael
      October 25, 2013

      Did the researchers ask what it would look like if it occurred with G_d?

      • Cheng
        October 25, 2013

        G__d G_d man. If you mean God, say God. He won’t be offended. I’m sure the “writer” of the laws of physics won’t be fooled by your code anyway…….Even if, in the increasingly unlikely event, he does exists!

        As to your questions, I think it’s a fairly safe bet that the researchers would rightly deem them inconsequential.

      • Xeno
        October 25, 2013

        Yes, god told them the liposomes would all be wearing white robes.

        Hold on, I’ll look it up… Okay, yes, the researchers contacted G_d (not “god”, I had that wrong) via FAX on a Tuesday about the results as part of the study before they published. The reply came back via Morse code within 2 hours and was recorded on a piece of lab equipment. This is all in the footnotes if you take the time to read carefully.

        The code from G_d was very clear, except for the last word:

        “The glory of these liposomes is not my miracle, Stan. Exposed fat without a white robe is inappropriate at any scale. Devil is out as well, as are other angels, fallen or not. Keep looking, you’ll figure it out. PS. How did you get my new FAX number? Crnedui”

      • Michael
        October 25, 2013

        You guys are basing your criticisms from an obvious christian viewpoint, so you are missing my point. The fact that you, Cheng, could not tell that I am Jewish is quite evident despite the fact that I mentioned Torah. I refer to the Almighty in English as G_d because Jews refrain from writing G_d’s name, even in other languages, because G_d commanded them to only do so under certain proscribed circumstances. A blog does not constitute one of those circumstances. BTW, Cheng, you cannot offend G_d. That statement is ridiculous. The commandment to show respect to the Almighty is for the effect it has on the person, not G_d.

        The references to white robes I didn’t get until I did a bit of research. So, you think dead folks go to heaven and wear white robes? Again, the childish imagery of christianity. Devil and fallen angels are completely false christian inventions. Why not mention some other fictional elements as well for added spice? Really, Xeno, I have not seen you stoop to this level of insult before and wonder what is going on in your life. I have posted to your blog for 10 years and have not had you respond to me in this manner.

        To the point, it is arrogant for any scientist to state that they have discovered a phenomenon which disproves the existence of G_d. Since G_d exists outside of the universe and we have yet to measure anything outside of the universe, then such statements are physically impossible. I should know: I am a scientist. The real kind, with the degrees to match. Science should stick to only drawing conclusions within the framework of the data, and not extrapolate beyond the data.

      • Xeno
        October 26, 2013

        Michael,

        No offense intended. All jokes are part of G_d’s inscrutable plan. There is no stooping to new lows, no insult to you here.

        If you find it insulting that you believe something untestable, then that’s you offending yourself.

        It is true that I was raised by Christians. I lost my religion, or it lost me with nonsensical claims like fear is love. We all came from somewhere and we were all shaped by our journey.

        As part of my particular journey I discovered self-organizing systems. Lipids, for example, stick together to form semi-permeable membraned spheres which encapsulate molecules due to the laws of physics which make one end of a lipid hydrophobic than the other, and so on.

        Small local chemical interactions add up to self-organizing and also self-replicating systems. Awesome! Your claim that the laws of physics, like positive and negative charges, are the method by which a Planner set everything in motion is, I believe, untestable. It is fine by me if you or anyone else calls this the work of one or more gods.

        Good to have you around and I am glad that you and Cheng are both here to eXplore the eXperience of eXistence.

        Xeno

      • Cheng
        October 25, 2013

        Michael, what makes you think I didn’t realise you were Jewish? That’s a little arrogant of you to assume I hadn’t heard of the Torah. However, your religion (or nationality) is neither here nor there. It’s your bizarre protestation “The idea that any physical phenomenon can occur G_dlessly is an illusion” that I take objection to.
        You push this nonsense concerning a mythical entity, based on the evidence of ancient text and childrens stories written by men trying to explain, without the benefit of modern science, the unexplainable. How does this unempirical hearsay evidence sit with your scientific background?

        And isn’t writing G_d instead of God just silly? It’s just one of the many silly things spouted by all religions.

  2. Cheng
    October 25, 2013

    Michael, what makes you think I didn’t realise you were Jewish? That’s a little arrogant of you to assume I hadn’t heard of the Torah. However, your religion (or nationality) is neither here nor there. It’s your bizarre protestation “The idea that any physical phenomenon can occur G_dlessly is an illusion” that I take objection to.
    You push this nonsense concerning a mythical entity, based on the evidence of ancient text and childrens stories written by men trying to explain, without the benefit of modern science, the unexplainable. How does this unempirical hearsay evidence sit with your scientific background?

    And isn’t writing G_d instead of God just silly? It’s just one of the many silly things spouted by all religions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on October 24, 2013 by in Biology.
%d bloggers like this: