The foundations of life may have formed in cold environments, not hot or temperant

The foundations of life may have formed in cold environments, not hot or temperant

The scientific debate over the origins of life have found support for molecular formation and replication in boiling hot deep-sea hydrothermal vents and volcanic hot springs, as well as the warm little ponds postulated by Darwin.  Now comes evidence for the other end of the temperature spectrum, the very cold.

Previous work has shown that the nooks and crannies within ice could provide a place for the construction of RNA (often seen as being formed prior to DNA), the molecule that many researchers believe served as the basis for the earliest life [although there is an argument that viruses are not really alive (whatever that means), viruses are built on RNA, not DNA, for example].

To ascertain if RNA could replicate in these cold "pockets", researchers took test tubes of water and added salts, one of life's presumed starter ingredients (a ribozyme, an RNA molecule that can make reactions take place), and the ingredients the ribozyme would need to make a copy of itself.  The tubes were then cooled to various temperatures.  At various temperatures, the ribozymes built RNA strands.  At higher temperatures, the reactions went faster, but soon stopped.  At colder temperatures, the reactions progressed more slowly, but lasted longer, ultimately making more progress in terms of replication.  Even so, no complete self-replication was produced.  The researchers obtained strands that were 32 building blocks long, while a full-length ribozyme is 190.

A report on the research can be found at http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v1/n6/full/ncomms1076.html.