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.
Beyond military motives to copy animal hiding techniques, scientists foresee fabrics, cars and walls that change colour
The type of eruption that left an ashen landscape at the peak of Mount Ontake could occur at many apparently sleeping volcanoes
Experimental device uses an array of lenses to bend light, effectively rendering what is on the other side invisible to the eye
The Lady With an Ermine is believed to have been painted in 1489 or 1490
A new study argues that the theory biologists use to predict an ecosystem's biodiversity should be modified to account for the global economy. The post How Global Shipping Could Change Our Understanding of Biodiversity appeared first on WIRED.
The presenter and physicist Brian Cox says he supports the idea that many universes may exist.
Ripples in space touted as proof of the Big Bang theory might simply be cosmic interference, a new study finds
The eruption has been going for weeks. So far it hasn't been catastrophic, but it has been creating new ground.
The human eye has inspired physicists to create a processor that can analyse particle collisions 400 times faster than currently possible.
Adjusting the numbers of various types of molecule in the environment seem to improve the chances of self-replicating life generating spontaneously