The study stating that the cells may have emerging; because building blocks of proteins stabilizing membranes. These cells faced a chemical conundrum. They needed particular ions from the soup in order to perform basic functions. But those charged ions would have disrupted the simple membranes that encapsulated the cells. A team of researchers at the University of Washington has solved this puzzle using only molecules that would have been present on the early Earth.
But by using cell-sized, fluid-filled compartments surrounding by membranes made of fatty acid molecules; the team discovered that amino acids, the building blocks of proteins; can stabilize membranes against magnesium ions. Their results set the stage for the first cells to encode their genetic information in RNA; a molecule relating to DNA that requires magnesium for its production, while maintaining the stability of the membrane.
Building blocks of protein
They also demonstrate how the individual building blocks of cellular structures membranes; proteins and RNA could have co-localized within watery environments on the ancient Earth. Cells are made up of very different types of structures with totally different types of building blocks, and it has never been clear why they would come together in a functional way. The assumption was just that somehow they did come together.
The observation that fatty acid molecules can self-assemble to form membranes; and hypothesizing that these membranes could act as a favorable surface to assemble the building blocks of RNA and proteins. By imagining different types of molecules moving within the primordial soup as fuzzy tennis balls and hard squash balls bouncing around in a big box that is being shaking.
Amino acids stabilized
The researchers also discovered that amino acids stabilized membranes through changes in concentration. Some scientists have hypothesized that the first cells may have formed within shallow basins that went through cycles of high and low concentrations of amino acids as water evaporated and as new water washed in. The new findings that amino acids protect membranes as well as prior results showing that RNA building blocks can play a similar role indicate that membranes may have been a site for these precursor molecules to co-localize, providing a potential mechanism to explain what brought together the ingredients for life.
The University of Washington is an unusually good place to make discoveries; because of the enthusiasm of the scientific community to work collaboratively to share equipment and ideas across departments and fields. High local concentrations of molecular building blocks at the surface of fatty acid membranes; may have aided the eventual formation of proteins.