Biologists have traditionally assumed that [carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulfur] were prerequisites, as each one is found in several of life’s most essential molecules. But could a sustainable metabolism actually exist without one of these seemingly essential elements?
Joshua Goldford, a graduate student at Boston University, wanted to see how a phosphate-free world would map onto the contours of microbial biochemistry….
[Ultimately,] the study posits that “many of such reactions could have been initially catalyzed to a much weaker and less specific extent by a number of small molecules,” and that this scenario “is not new to origin of life research.”
While phosphate may not have been required for a core set of proto-biological needs, inheretance of genetic material isn’t part of the equation: RNA and DNA both involve a phosphate molecular backbone, without which genetic material as we know it wouldn’t be possible. Nonetheless, by kickstarting biochemical processes in the absence of phosphate, metabolic networks may have been poised to jump into an RNA world once phosphate became more readily accessible.
[The study can be found here.]
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