Scientists believe that prior to the advent of DNA as the earth's primary genetic material, early forms of life used RNA to encode genetic instructions. What sort of genetic molecules did life rely on before RNA?
The answer may be AEG, a small molecule when linked into chains form a hypothetical backbone for Peptide Nucleic Acids, which have been hypothesized as the first genetic molecules. Synthetic AEG has been studied by the pharmaceutical industry as a possible genesilencer to stop or slow certain genetic diseases. The only problem with the theory is that up to now, AEG has been unknown from nature.
A team of scientists from the USA and Sweden announced that they have discovered AEG within cyanobacteria which are believed to be some of the most primitive organisms on earth. Cyanobacteria sometimes appear as mats or scums on the surface of reservoirs and lakes during hot summer months. Their tolerance for extreme habitats is remarkable, ranging from the hot springs of Yellowstone to the tundra of the Arctic.
"Our discovery of AEG in cyanobacteria was unexpected," explains Dr. Paul Alan Cox, coauthor on the paper that appeared today in the journal PLOS ONE. The American team, is based at the Institute for Ethnomedicine in Jackson Hole, and serve as adjunct faculty at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.
"While we were writing our manuscript," Cox says, "we learned that our colleagues at the Stockholm University Department of Analytical Chemistry had made a similar discovery, so we asked them to join us on the paper."
To determine how widespread AEG production is among cyanobacteria, the scientists analyzed pristine cyanobacterial cultures from the Pasteur Culture Collection of Paris, France. They also collected samples of cyanobacteria from Guam, Japan, Qatar, as well as in the Gobi desert of Mongolia, the latter sample being collected by famed Wyoming naturalist Derek Craighead. All were found to produce AEG.
Professor Leopold Ilag and his student Liying Jiang at Stockholm University's Department of Analytical Chemistry analyzed the same samples and came up with identical results: cyanobacteria produce AEG. While the analysis is certain, its significance for studies of the earliest forms of life on earth remains unclear. Does the production of AEG by cyanobacteria represent an echo of the earliest life on earth?
"We just don't have enough data yet to draw that sort of conclusion," reports Cox. "However the pharmaceutical industry has been exploring synthetic AEG polymers for potential use in gene silencing, so I suspect we have much more to learn."
Weber State University: http://weber.edu
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
A playfully named subatomic particle is confirmed, and beats rivals Bert and Ernie in terms of energy. Next step: to find a cluster of space neutrinos
Can matter be made of four quarks bound together? The discovery of a new particle has been confirmed at the LHC and may be our best hope of an answer
Traditional spice producers and synthetic biologists don't have to compete – there's room for both
Cortines School's Greg Schiller was removed by L.A. Unified after two students' projects were deemed to resemble weapons. A popular Los Angeles high school science teacher has been suspended after students turned in projects that appeared dangerous to administrators, spurring a campaign calling for his return to the classroom.
Eighty percent of the universe is utterly invisible, but an exotic dance of mutually annihilating particles may explain it all
NASA says the Western Pacific island of Nishino-shima has merged with its newly created volcanic companion, forming one larger landmass.
Scientist Lawrence Krauss says clips of him were "mined" to lend credibility to The Principle, a film he describes as "stupid" and "unbelievable."
An experiment located at the bottom of a US gold mine could offer the best chance yet of detecting dark matter, scientists believe.
The U.S. Navy is planning sea trials for a weapon that can fire a low-cost, 23-pound (10-kg) projectile at seven times the speed of sound using electromagnetic energy, a "Star Wars" technology that will make enemies think twice, the Navy's research chief said.
A spectacular satellite view of China's Piqiang fault shows 50 million years of Earth's history torn asunder