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Life 2016, 6(3), 33; doi:10.3390/life6030033

A Self-Assembled Aggregate Composed of a Fatty Acid Membrane and the Building Blocks of Biological Polymers Provides a First Step in the Emergence of Protocells

1
Department of Bioengineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
2
Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3TA, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: David Deamer
Received: 30 June 2016 / Revised: 2 August 2016 / Accepted: 9 August 2016 / Published: 11 August 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Origin of Cellular Life)
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [2149 KB, uploaded 11 August 2016]   |  

Abstract

We propose that the first step in the origin of cellular life on Earth was the self-assembly of fatty acids with the building blocks of RNA and protein, resulting in a stable aggregate. This scheme provides explanations for the selection and concentration of the prebiotic components of cells; the stabilization and growth of early membranes; the catalysis of biopolymer synthesis; and the co-localization of membranes, RNA and protein. In this article, we review the evidence and rationale for the formation of the proposed aggregate: (i) the well-established phenomenon of self-assembly of fatty acids to form vesicles; (ii) our published evidence that nucleobases and sugars bind to and stabilize such vesicles; and (iii) the reasons why amino acids likely do so as well. We then explain how the conformational constraints and altered chemical environment due to binding of the components to the membrane could facilitate the formation of nucleosides, oligonucleotides and peptides. We conclude by discussing how the resulting oligomers, even if short and random, could have increased vesicle stability and growth more than their building blocks did, and how competition among these vesicles could have led to longer polymers with complex functions. View Full-Text
Keywords: origin of life; prebiotic; self-assembly; amphiphiles; fatty acid; vesicle; nucleoside; peptide; oligonucleotide; membrane origin of life; prebiotic; self-assembly; amphiphiles; fatty acid; vesicle; nucleoside; peptide; oligonucleotide; membrane
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Black, R.A.; Blosser, M.C. A Self-Assembled Aggregate Composed of a Fatty Acid Membrane and the Building Blocks of Biological Polymers Provides a First Step in the Emergence of Protocells. Life 2016, 6, 33.

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