Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A simple mechanism could have been decisive for the development of life

23.05.2018

The question of the origin of life remains one of the oldest unanswered scientific questions. A team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has now shown for the first time that phase separation is an extremely efficient way of controlling the selection of chemical building blocks and providing advantages to certain molecules.

Life needs energy. Without energy, cells cannot move or divide, not even basic functions such as the production of simple proteins could be maintained. If energy is lacking, more complex connections disintegrate quickly, early life would die immediately.


Left: clear solution, right: aqueous solution, clouded by ultrafine oil droplets

Picture: A. Battenberg / TUM


Single droplets under a fluorescence microscope

Image: Marta Tena-Solsona / TUM

Chemist Job Boekhoven and his team at TUM have now succeeded in using phase separation to find a mechanism in simple molecules that enables extremely unstable molecules such as those found in the primordial soup to have a higher degree of stability. They could survive longer, even if they had to survive a period without external energy supply.

The principle of simplicity

Job Boekhoven and his team were looking for a simple mechanism with primitive molecules that could produce life-like properties. "Most likely, molecules were simple in the primordial soup," says Boekhoven. The researchers investigated what happens when they "fed" various carboxylic acid molecules with high-energy carbodiimide condensing agents, thus bringing them out of equilibrium.

The reaction produces unstable anhydrides. In principle, these non-equilibrium products quickly disintegrate into carboxylic acids again. The scientists showed that the anhydrides that survived the longest were those that could form a kind of oil droplet in the aqueous environment.

Molecules in the garage

The effect can also be seen externally: the initially clear solution becomes milky. The lack of water in the oil droplets is like a protection because anhydrides need water to disintegrate back into carboxylic acids.

Boekhoven explains the principle of phase separation with an analogy: "Imagine an old and rusty car: Leave it outside in the rain, and it continues to rust and decomposes because rusting is accelerated by water. Put it in the garage, and it stops rusting because you separate it from the rain."

In a way, a similar process occurs in the primordial soup experiment: Inside the oil droplet (garage) with the long-chain anhydride molecules there is no water, so its molecules survive longer. If the molecules compete with each other for energy, again those that can protect themselves by forming oil droplets are likelier to survive, while their competitors get hydrolyzed.

Next goal: viable information carriers

Since the mechanism of phase separation is so simple, it can possibly be extended to other types of molecular aggregations with life-like properties such as DNA, RNA or self-dividing vesicles. Studies have shown that these bubbles can divide spontaneously. "Soon we hope to turn primitive chemistry into a self-replicating information carrier that is protected from decay to a certain extent," says Boekhoven.

Publication:

Marta Tena-Solsona, Caren Wanzke, Benedikt Riess, Andreas R. Bausch, Job Boekhoven;
Self-selection of dissipative assemblies driven by primitive chemical reaction networks
Nature Communications, May 23, 2018 – DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04488-y
Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-04488-y

More information:

The project was funded by a Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellowship provided by the European Union, by the German Research Council via the International Research Training Group ATUMS and the SFB 863 as well as the TUM Institute for Advanced Study, which is funded by the German Excellence Initiative and the European Union Seventh Framework Programme.

Contact:

Prof. Dr. Job Boekhoven
Technical University Munich
Professorship for Supramolecular Chemistry
Lichtenbergstr. 4, 85748 Garching, Germany
Tel.: +49 89 289 54400, job.boekhoven@tum.de
Web: http://boekhovenlab.com/

Weitere Informationen:

https://www.tum.de/nc/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/detail/article/34660/ Link to the press release

Dr. Ulrich Marsch | Technische Universität München

Further reports about: TUM Technische Universität acids carboxylic acids droplet oil droplets

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New study finds distinct microbes living next to corals
22.05.2019 | Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

nachricht Summit charts a course to uncover the origins of genetic diseases
22.05.2019 | DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Self-repairing batteries

UTokyo engineers develop a way to create high-capacity long-life batteries

Engineers at the University of Tokyo continually pioneer new ways to improve battery technology. Professor Atsuo Yamada and his team recently developed a...

Im Focus: Quantum Cloud Computing with Self-Check

With a quantum coprocessor in the cloud, physicists from Innsbruck, Austria, open the door to the simulation of previously unsolvable problems in chemistry, materials research or high-energy physics. The research groups led by Rainer Blatt and Peter Zoller report in the journal Nature how they simulated particle physics phenomena on 20 quantum bits and how the quantum simulator self-verified the result for the first time.

Many scientists are currently working on investigating how quantum advantage can be exploited on hardware already available today. Three years ago, physicists...

Im Focus: Accelerating quantum technologies with materials processing at the atomic scale

'Quantum technologies' utilise the unique phenomena of quantum superposition and entanglement to encode and process information, with potentially profound benefits to a wide range of information technologies from communications to sensing and computing.

However a major challenge in developing these technologies is that the quantum phenomena are very fragile, and only a handful of physical systems have been...

Im Focus: A step towards probabilistic computing

Working group led by physicist Professor Ulrich Nowak at the University of Konstanz, in collaboration with a team of physicists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, demonstrates how skyrmions can be used for the computer concepts of the future

When it comes to performing a calculation destined to arrive at an exact result, humans are hopelessly inferior to the computer. In other areas, humans are...

Im Focus: Recording embryonic development

Scientists develop a molecular recording tool that enables in vivo lineage tracing of embryonic cells

The beginning of new life starts with a fascinating process: A single cell gives rise to progenitor cells that eventually differentiate into the three germ...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

SEMANTiCS 2019 brings together industry leaders and data scientists in Karlsruhe

29.04.2019 | Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Summit charts a course to uncover the origins of genetic diseases

22.05.2019 | Life Sciences

New study finds distinct microbes living next to corals

22.05.2019 | Life Sciences

Stellar waltz with dramatic ending

22.05.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>