‘Nature’s batteries’ could have been an energy source for early life

May 26th, 2010 - 12:34 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 26 (ANI): Researchers may have stumbled upon new clues to the origin of early life on Earth.

The team at the University of Leeds found that a compound known as pyrophosphite might have been an important energy source for primitive lifeforms.

“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.”

Molecules such as ATP convert sun energy into a useable form for animals and plants. Human body stores just 250g of ATP at a time - equivalent to a single AA battery. This store is renewed constantly using respiration process - which in turn is driven by catalysts called enzymes.

The question scientists are asking is: what was the source of energy before either of these things came into use?

“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,” says Kee.

The key to the battery-like properties of both ATP and pyrophosphite is an element called phosphorus, 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.

“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,” he added.

The findings are published in the journal Chemical Communications. (ANI)

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