Thanks to a new computational model devised by Stony Brook University Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers, the question of how informational molecules such as DNA and RNA grew from simpler molecules billions of years ago may finally be answered.
It has long been known that simple chemical building blocks were strung together to create short chemical units, but it was unknown how short chemical polymer chains could grow into longer chains that encode protein information. The new model may answer this question and unveil a secret of the origins of life, Stony Brook University reported.
“We created a computational model that illustrates a fold-and-catalyze mechanism that amplifies polymer sequences and leads to runaway improvements in the polymers,” Ken Dill, lead author and Distinguished Professor and Director of the Laufer Center, said in a press release. “The theoretical study helps to understand a missing link in the evolution of chemistry into biology and how a population of molecular building blocks could, over time, result in the emergence of catalytic sequences essential to biological life.”
The researchers wrote a paper, “The Foldamer Hypothesis for the growth and sequence-differentiation of prebiotic polymers,” in which they used computer simulations to explore how polar and hydrophobic sequences of polymers bind together.
The researchers discovered that the chains of both polymers can collapse and fold into conformations that serve as catalysts for lengthening other polymers. These chains, called "foldamer" catalysts, work as a pair to elongate and grow information sequences, the release said.
“By showing how prebiotic polymers could have become informational ‘foldamers’, we hope to have revealed a key step to understanding just how life started to form on earth billions of years ago,” Dill said.