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How RNA got started

Scientists identify chemical reactions that could be responsible for the origin of life

Scientists may have figured out the chemistry that sparked the beginning of life on Earth.

The new findings map out a series of simple, efficient chemical reactions that could have formed molecules of RNA, a close cousin of DNA, from the basic materials available more than 3.85 billion years ago, researchers report online May 13 in Nature

“This is a very impressive piece of work — a really excellent analysis,” comments chemist James Ferris of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

The new research lends support to the idea that RNA-based life-forms were the first step toward the evolution of modern life. Called the RNA world hypothesis, the idea was first proposed some 40 years ago. But until now, scientists couldn’t figure out the chemical reactions that created the earliest RNA molecules.

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