Aerosol droplets might have allowed life’s first information molecules to outlive faster replicators
Richard Bizley/Science Source
Long before modern cells were around to house genetic material, tiny water droplets might have protected the first self-replicating molecules from parasitic mutants. New experimental evidence shows that such temporary compartments can help RNA molecules resist takeover by shorter, faster-replicating mutants, researchers report in the Dec. 9 Science.
“We have a lot of theoretical papers that sort of hint at how parasites could have been fought off, but here we have a lab-based study that shows a potential mechanism,” says Niles Lehman, a chemist at Portland State University in Oregon who wasn’t part of the study.
A crucial step in the emergence of life on Earth was the appearance of molecules that could copy themselves. Many scientists believe the first self-replicating molecules might have been rudimentary versions of today’s RNA, which carries instructions to