Mystery about origins of life solved: Canadian scientists

February 20th, 2009 - 9:50 am ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Feb 20 (IANS) Canadian scientists claim to have solved a major mystery about the origins of life on earth.
The claims come at a time when the world is celebrating the bicentennial anniversary of the Father of Evolution, Charles Darwin.

Two Montreal University scientists have proposed a new theory to show how a universal molecular machine, called ribosome, self-assembled or self-organized itself to become a critical step in generating all life on earth.

“While the ribosome is a complex structure, it features a clear hierarchy that emerged based on basic chemical principles,” said biochemistry professor Sergey Steinberg, who made the discovery with student Konstantin Bokov, in a university statement Thursday.

He said his theory explains what people imagine as “unseen forces at work when such complex structures emerge in nature.”

The Canadian scientist said the ribosome is an enormous molecule responsible for translating the messages (carried in the genetic code of all organisms) into proteins that carry out all functions, including replicating the genome itself.

Compared to biological molecules, he said, ribosomes are immense and very complex.

“Though visible only through lenses of the most powerful microscopes, comparing most other biological molecules to this behemoth (ribosome) is like comparing a tricycle to a jumbo jet,” said Steinberg.

He said he spent years pondering how a complex ribosome could have assembled itself from smaller building blocks that existed on the early earth.

His work, he said, led to the discovery that the ribosome must have assembled itself from basic building blocks “in a very specific order; otherwise it would have fallen apart.”

Though chemists have observed examples of self-organizing behavior in simple molecules, there has been no such explanation about the complex self-assembly of ribosomes to this date, he said.

“Thanks to the research of Sergey Steinberg and Konstantin Bokov, scientists now have a glimpse of one key event that emerged spontaneously out of the primordial chemical soup of the early earth,” the university statement quoted Stephen Michnick, who is Canada Research Chair in Integrative Genomics, as saying.

“`Perhaps in the near future we may look forward to more discoveries that will take us beyond the world of Darwin into an understanding of the basic chemical principles that drove the emergence of life on our planet and perhaps beyond.”

The study has been published in the journal Nature.

–Indo-Asian News service


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