'Nature's batteries' may have helped power early lifeforms

May 25, 2010

Researchers at the University of Leeds have uncovered new clues to the origins of life on Earth.

The team found that a compound known as pyrophosphite may have been an important energy source for primitive lifeforms.

There are several conflicting theories of how life on Earth emerged from inanimate matter billions of years ago - a process known as abiogenesis.

"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."

All living things require a continual supply of energy in order to function. This energy is carried around our bodies within certain molecules, one of the best known being ATP*, which converts heat from the sun into a useable form for animals and plants.

At any one time, the human body contains just 250g of ATP - this provides roughly the same amount of energy as a single AA battery. This ATP store is being constantly used and regenerated in cells via a process known as respiration, which is driven by natural catalysts called enzymes.

"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 , 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.

But despite its importance to life, it is not fully understood how phosphorus first appeared in our atmosphere. One theory is that it was contained within the many meteorites that collided with the Earth billions of years ago.

"Phosphorus is present within several meteoritic minerals and it is possible that this reacted to form pyrophosphite under the acidic, volcanic conditions of early Earth," added Dr Kee.

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 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.

Explore further: Scientists sweep cells apart for use in medical research

More information: The findings, entitled: 'On the prebiotic potential of reduced oxidation state phosphorus: the H-phosphinate-pyruvate system', are published in Chemical Communications - DOI:10.1039/c002689a

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FredJose
3.3 / 5 (6) May 25, 2010
One theory is that it was contained within the many meteorites that collided with the Earth billions of years ago.

Strange how often something has to collide with something else to produce a scientific result.

Examples:
The moon formed by something striking the earth. Water was delivered to earth by comets striking the earth.
Dinosaurs were made extinct by a huge asteroid or meteoroid strike - take your pick.
Mars lost all it's water after a colossal asteroid strike - or maybe I got that wrong - there was a massive flood - see all the channels and then there was a strike.
Uranus had it's magnetic field upset by collision with some massive object.
The rings of Saturn were set up by a massive asteroid strike.
OK, I'm exaggerating a little...
FredJose
2.7 / 5 (7) May 25, 2010
You need enzymes to make ATP and you need ATP to make enzymes," explained Dr Kee.

You also need the DNA to specify how to make the enzymes which just so incidentally is also required to unravel and curl the DNA again.
Like they said:
"It's a chicken and egg question," said Dr Terry Kee

Since it's quite clear that neither can exist without the other, it should be obvious that some external, independent intelligent means of construction was necessary. It cannot happen by itself. That should be obvious.

Now, of course, eventually someone will construct a theory that will be accepted by all who don't want to accept an external intelligent agent. Then everybody will be happy - oh except the ones who do believe in the intelligent agent.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.3 / 5 (8) May 25, 2010
You also need the DNA to specify how to make the enzymes which just so incidentally is also required to unravel and curl the DNA again.
Like they said:

That may be the state of current life. I can't find any evidence for your statements. Do you know what the state of life was 2 billion years ago? How about 1 Billion? How about 2 million? Do you have any evidence for your stance?
Since it's quite clear that neither can exist without the other, it should be obvious that some external, independent intelligent means of construction was necessary. It cannot happen by itself. That should be obvious.

Oh boy... If you climb a ladder onto your roof, and I come by and take the ladder away, will all observers assume that God put you there or would they go looking for a missing ladder?
Caliban
2 / 5 (4) May 25, 2010
It is my understanding that phosphorus is an abundant component of the Earth, just as a fraction of its mass- why they had to invoke the "collision" mechanism of delivery is beyond me.

http://www.wolfra...s:+Earth

During the early, turbulant geologic history of earth, it would have been churned continuously, and easily available in any water present on earth's surface.
Djincs
2 / 5 (4) May 26, 2010
"This energy is carried around our bodies within certain molecules, one of the best known being ATP*,"
Here is a little mistake every sell produse its ATP and the form of wich energy is carried around is glucose and other molekules, about egg and chicken problem, it was the egg wich was first(not metaforically , just saing)!
And only because now cells use atp doesnt meen they always did, they could have used a molecule which was in abundens in the wather , imagine millions of years sunlight and ligtening sintesize compaunds, and at first there were no life to disolve them....
it was a good start to life, before it could figure out how to close the circle.
FredJose
1 / 5 (3) May 26, 2010
Oh boy... If you climb a ladder onto your roof, and I come by and take the ladder away, will all observers assume that God put you there or would they go looking for a missing ladder?

They'd simply come to hear why I'm standing on the roof with no ladder and I'd tell them someone took it away.
Try asking the cell who took it's enzyme forming or DNA forming thingy away and I'm sure it wouldn't be able to answer.
So you're going to invent something that was taken away and then claim that that thing that isn't there anymore and can't be proven to have been there jump-started the cell into life?
Sounds like creating a faith based religion to me.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.3 / 5 (3) May 26, 2010
Try asking the cell who took it's enzyme forming or DNA forming thingy away and I'm sure it wouldn't be able to answer.
So you're going to invent something that was taken away and then claim that that thing that isn't there anymore and can't be proven to have been there jump-started the cell into life?

So analogy is above you, and 1000 characters is not enough space to post the process, if you would like to know the current theory of abiogenesis and cellular development PM me and I'll explain it to anyone who's interested.
Sounds like creating a faith based religion to me.
Why would we? There are already so many wonderful ones to choose from.

Besides, we have evidence, no need for faith. If you'd care to hear it, let me know.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.3 / 5 (3) May 26, 2010
They'd simply come to hear why I'm standing on the roof with no ladder and I'd tell them someone took it away.
As an aside, you speak english, what if all the onlookers are aramaeic scholars from 300BC? Could you tell them then? Would you even be able to establish common ground to tell them within a logical frame of reference?

Your analogies are fairly poor. Through experimentation we are "talking" to cells. You may not understand the incredibly complex chemical language, but biologists and chemists are learning it now. So unless oyu have any form of evidence showing that there is no way for life to have arisen and changed over time, you're going to have to sideline your "knowledge" for a "latter day".

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