In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists present a new strategy for studying the origin of life. They focus on the earliest stages of evolution by investigating electron transfer chains, which are a universal metabolic strategy with an ancient history.
The origin of life remains one of science’s most puzzling problems. Organisms are composed of cells, transmit genetic information through DNA, and use protein enzymes for their metabolism. All of these basic features of biology arose through specific processes in early evolutionary history. Understanding how these systems first formed will not only help us better understand life at the most fundamental level, but will also help us expand our understanding of the possibility of life beyond Earth.
Typically, the question of the origin of life is studied using laboratory experiments that simulate the conditions of early Earth and look for chemicals that can create biomolecules and metabolic reactions similar to modern organisms. This approach is known as “bottom-up.” It provides insight into how life might have arisen, but does not reveal its actual origin.
Other studies use the techniques of evolutionary biology to reconstruct early life forms from data on modern organisms. This approach is called “top-down” and allows us to study the history of life on Earth. However, it is limited in that it can only look at genes that have survived to the present day.
A new paper by scientists Aaron Goldman and Laurie Barge proposes combining bottom-up and top-down approaches to get a more complete picture of the origin of life. They argue that exploring possible pathways for the origin of life through laboratory experiments, as well as reconstructing early life forms based on current evidence, could shed light on how life really came to be on Earth.
The central focus of the study is electron transfer chains. This is a phenomenon of modern life that arises from the ability of organisms to transfer electrons within their cells. Scientists believe that studying these chains may help unlock the mystery of the origin of life. Electron transfer chains are a universal metabolic strategy that has a very ancient history.
Researchers hope that combining laboratory experiments and evolutionary reconstructions will help find the common conditions necessary for the origin of life. This will open new horizons in understanding the origin of life and help to search for it beyond our planet.