Open AccessArticle
Cloning and Molecular Characterization of an Alpha-Glucosidase (MalH) from the Halophilic Archaeon Haloquadratum walsbyi
Life 2017, 7(4), 46; doi:10.3390/life7040046 (registering DOI) -
Abstract
We report the heterologous expression and molecular characterization of the first extremely halophilic alpha-glucosidase (EC 3.2.1.20) from the archaeon Haloquadratum walsbyi. A 2349 bp region (Hqrw_2071) from the Hqr. walsbyi C23 annotated genome was PCR-amplified and the resulting amplicon ligated
[...] Read more.
We report the heterologous expression and molecular characterization of the first extremely halophilic alpha-glucosidase (EC 3.2.1.20) from the archaeon Haloquadratum walsbyi. A 2349 bp region (Hqrw_2071) from the Hqr. walsbyi C23 annotated genome was PCR-amplified and the resulting amplicon ligated into plasmid pET28b(+), expressed in E. coli Rosetta cells, and the resulting protein purified by Ni-NTA affinity chromatography. The recombinant protein showed an estimated molecular mass of 87 kDa, consistent with the expected value of the annotated protein, and an optimal activity for the hydrolysis of α-PNPG was detected at 40 °C, and at pH 6.0. Enzyme activity values were the highest in the presence of 3 M NaCl or 3–4 M KCl. However, specific activity values were two-fold higher in the presence of 3–4 M KCl when compared to NaCl suggesting a cytoplasmic localization. Phylogenetic analyses, with respect to other alpha-glucosidases from members of the class Halobacteria, showed that the Hqr. walsbyi MalH was most similar (up to 41%) to alpha-glucosidases and alpha-xylosidases of Halorubrum. Moreover, computational analyses for the detection of functional domains, active and catalytic sites, as well as 3D structural predictions revealed a close relationship with an E. coli YicI-like alpha-xylosidase of the GH31 family. However, the purified enzyme did not show alpha-xylosidase activity. This narrower substrate range indicates a discrepancy with annotations from different databases and the possibility of specific substrate adaptations of halophilic glucosidases due to high salinity. To our knowledge, this is the first report on the characterization of an alpha-glucosidase from the halophilic Archaea, which could serve as a new model to gain insights into carbon metabolism in this understudied microbial group. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle
Chemical Transformations in Proto-Cytoplasmic Media. Phosphorus Coupling in the Silica Hydrogel Phase
Life 2017, 7(4), 45; doi:10.3390/life7040045 -
Abstract
It has been proposed that prebiotic chemical studies on the emergence of primitive life would be most relevant when performed in a hydrogel, rather than an aqueous, environment. In this paper we describe the ambient temperature coupling of phosphorus oxyacids [Pi] mediated by
[...] Read more.
It has been proposed that prebiotic chemical studies on the emergence of primitive life would be most relevant when performed in a hydrogel, rather than an aqueous, environment. In this paper we describe the ambient temperature coupling of phosphorus oxyacids [Pi] mediated by Fe(II) under aerobic conditions within a silica hydrogel (SHG) environment. We have chosen to examine SHGs as they have considerable geological precedence as key phases in silicification en route to rock formation. Following a description of the preparation and characterization studies on our SHG formulations, coupling experiments between Pi species are described across multiple permutations of (i) Pi compound; (ii) gel formulation; (iii) metal salt additive; and (iv) pH-modifying agent. The results suggest that successful Pi coupling, indicated by observation of pyrophosphate [PPi(V)] via 31P-NMR spectroscopy, takes place when the following components are present: (i) a mixture of mixture of Pi(III) and Pi(V) or pure PPi(III-V); (ii) Fe(II); (iii) acetic or formic acid (not hydrochloric acid); (iv) aerobic conditions or the presence of H2O2 as an oxidant; and (v) the presence of a gel system. On the basis of these, and aqueous control reactions, we suggest mechanistic possibilities. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessReview
The Impact of Salts on Single Chain Amphiphile Membranes and Implications for the Location of the Origin of Life
Life 2017, 7(4), 44; doi:10.3390/life7040044 -
Abstract
One of the key steps in the origins of life was the formation of a membrane to separate protocells from their environment. These membranes are proposed to have been formed out of single chain amphiphiles, which are less stable than the dialkyl lipids
[...] Read more.
One of the key steps in the origins of life was the formation of a membrane to separate protocells from their environment. These membranes are proposed to have been formed out of single chain amphiphiles, which are less stable than the dialkyl lipids used to form modern membranes. This lack of stability, specifically for decanoate, is often used to refute ocean locations for the origins of life. This review addresses the formation of membranes in hydrothermal-vent like conditions, as well as other environmental constraints. Specifically, single chain amphiphiles can form membranes at high sea salt concentrations (150 g/L), high temperatures (65 °C), and a wide pH range (2 to 10). It additionally discusses the major challenges and advantages of membrane formation in both ocean and fresh water locations. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle
Evolutionary Conflict Leads to Innovation: Symmetry Breaking in a Spatial Model of RNA-Like Replicators
Life 2017, 7(4), 43; doi:10.3390/life7040043 -
Abstract
Molecules that replicate in trans are vulnerable to evolutionary extinction because they decrease the catalysis of replication to become more available as a template for replication. This problem can be alleviated with higher-level selection that clusters molecules of the same phenotype, favouring those
[...] Read more.
Molecules that replicate in trans are vulnerable to evolutionary extinction because they decrease the catalysis of replication to become more available as a template for replication. This problem can be alleviated with higher-level selection that clusters molecules of the same phenotype, favouring those groups that contain more catalysis. Here, we study a simple replicator model with implicit higher-level selection through space. We ask whether the functionality of such system can be enhanced when molecules reproduce through complementary replication, representing RNA-like replicators. For high diffusion, symmetry breaking between complementary strands occurs: one strand becomes a specialised catalyst and the other a specialised template. In ensemble, such replicators can modulate their catalytic activity depending on their environment, thereby mitigating the conflict between levels of selection. In addition, these replicators are more evolvable, facilitating survival in extreme conditions (i.e., for higher diffusion rates). Our model highlights that evolution with implicit higher-level selection—i.e., as a result of local interactions and spatial patterning—is very flexible. For different diffusion rates, different solutions to the selective conflict arise. Our results support an RNA World by showing that complementary replicators may have various ways to evolve more complexity. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle
SMORE: Synteny Modulator of Repetitive Elements
Life 2017, 7(4), 42; doi:10.3390/life7040042 -
Abstract
Several families of multicopy genes, such as transfer ribonucleic acids (tRNAs) and ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs), are subject to concerted evolution, an effect that keeps sequences of paralogous genes effectively identical. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to distinguish orthologs from paralogs on the
[...] Read more.
Several families of multicopy genes, such as transfer ribonucleic acids (tRNAs) and ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs), are subject to concerted evolution, an effect that keeps sequences of paralogous genes effectively identical. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to distinguish orthologs from paralogs on the basis of sequence similarity alone. Synteny, the preservation of relative genomic locations, however, also remains informative for the disambiguation of evolutionary relationships in this situation. In this contribution, we describe an automatic pipeline for the evolutionary analysis of such cases that use genome-wide alignments as a starting point to assign orthology relationships determined by synteny. The evolution of tRNAs in primates as well as the history of the Y RNA family in vertebrates and nematodes are used to showcase the method. The pipeline is freely available. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle
The Role of Templating in the Emergence of RNA from the Prebiotic Chemical Mixture
Life 2017, 7(4), 41; doi:10.3390/life7040041 -
Abstract
Biological RNA is a uniform polymer in three senses: it uses nucleotides of a single chirality; it uses only ribose sugars and four nucleobases rather than a mixture of other sugars and bases; and it uses only 3′-5′ bonds rather than a mixture
[...] Read more.
Biological RNA is a uniform polymer in three senses: it uses nucleotides of a single chirality; it uses only ribose sugars and four nucleobases rather than a mixture of other sugars and bases; and it uses only 3′-5′ bonds rather than a mixture of different bond types. We suppose that prebiotic chemistry would generate a diverse mixture of potential monomers, and that random polymerization would generate non-uniform strands of mixed chirality, monomer composition, and bond type. We ask what factors lead to the emergence of RNA from this mixture. We show that template-directed replication can lead to the emergence of all the uniform properties of RNA by the same mechanism. We study a computational model in which nucleotides react via polymerization, hydrolysis, and template-directed ligation. Uniform strands act as templates for ligation of shorter oligomers of the same type, whereas mixed strands do not act as templates. The three uniform properties emerge naturally when the ligation rate is high. If there is an exact symmetry, as with the chase of chirality, the uniform property arises via a symmetry-breaking phase transition. If there is no exact symmetry, as with monomer selection and backbone regioselectivity, the uniform property emerges gradually as the rate of template-directed ligation is increased. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle
A Statistical Approach to Illustrate the Challenge of Astrobiology for Public Outreach
Life 2017, 7(4), 40; doi:10.3390/life7040040 -
Abstract
In this study, we attempt to illustrate the competition that constitutes the main challenge of astrobiology, namely the competition between the probability of extraterrestrial life and its detectability. To illustrate this fact, we propose a simple statistical approach based on our knowledge of
[...] Read more.
In this study, we attempt to illustrate the competition that constitutes the main challenge of astrobiology, namely the competition between the probability of extraterrestrial life and its detectability. To illustrate this fact, we propose a simple statistical approach based on our knowledge of the Universe and the Milky Way, the Solar System, and the evolution of life on Earth permitting us to obtain the order of magnitude of the distance between Earth and bodies inhabited by more or less evolved past or present life forms, and the consequences of this probability for the detection of associated biosignatures. We thus show that the probability of the existence of evolved extraterrestrial forms of life increases with distance from the Earth while, at the same time, the number of detectable biosignatures decreases due to technical and physical limitations. This approach allows us to easily explain to the general public why it is very improbable to detect a signal of extraterrestrial intelligence while it is justified to launch space probes dedicated to the search for microbial life in the Solar System. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessPerspective
Origin of the Reductive Tricarboxylic Acid (rTCA) Cycle-Type CO2 Fixation: A Perspective
Life 2017, 7(4), 39; doi:10.3390/life7040039 -
Abstract
The reductive tricarboxylic acid (rTCA) cycle is among the most plausible candidates for the first autotrophic metabolism in the earliest life. Extant enzymes fixing CO2 in this cycle contain cofactors at the catalytic centers, but it is unlikely that the protein/cofactor system
[...] Read more.
The reductive tricarboxylic acid (rTCA) cycle is among the most plausible candidates for the first autotrophic metabolism in the earliest life. Extant enzymes fixing CO2 in this cycle contain cofactors at the catalytic centers, but it is unlikely that the protein/cofactor system emerged at once in a prebiotic process. Here, we discuss the feasibility of non-enzymatic cofactor-assisted drive of the rTCA reactions in the primitive Earth environments, particularly focusing on the acetyl-CoA conversion to pyruvate. Based on the energetic and mechanistic aspects of this reaction, we propose that the deep-sea hydrothermal vent environments with active electricity generation in the presence of various sulfide catalysts are a promising setting for it to progress. Our view supports the theory of an autotrophic origin of life from primordial carbon assimilation within a sulfide-rich hydrothermal vent. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle
Prebiotic RNA Network Formation: A Taxonomy of Molecular Cooperation
Life 2017, 7(4), 38; doi:10.3390/life7040038 -
Abstract
Cooperation is essential for evolution of biological complexity. Recent work has shown game theoretic arguments, commonly used to model biological cooperation, can also illuminate the dynamics of chemical systems. Here we investigate the types of cooperation possible in a real RNA system based
[...] Read more.
Cooperation is essential for evolution of biological complexity. Recent work has shown game theoretic arguments, commonly used to model biological cooperation, can also illuminate the dynamics of chemical systems. Here we investigate the types of cooperation possible in a real RNA system based on the Azoarcus ribozyme, by constructing a taxonomy of possible cooperative groups. We construct a computational model of this system to investigate the features of the real system promoting cooperation. We find triplet interactions among genotypes are intrinsically biased towards cooperation due to the particular distribution of catalytic rate constants measured empirically in the real system. For other distributions cooperation is less favored. We discuss implications for understanding cooperation as a driver of complexification in the origin of life. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessReview
Hydrothermal Microflow Technology as a Research Tool for Origin-of-Life Studies in Extreme Earth Environments
Life 2017, 7(4), 37; doi:10.3390/life7040037 -
Abstract
Although studies about the origin of life are a frontier in science and a number of effective approaches have been developed, drawbacks still exist. Examples include: (1) simulation of chemical evolution experiments (which were demonstrated for the first time by Stanley Miller); (2)
[...] Read more.
Although studies about the origin of life are a frontier in science and a number of effective approaches have been developed, drawbacks still exist. Examples include: (1) simulation of chemical evolution experiments (which were demonstrated for the first time by Stanley Miller); (2) approaches tracing back the most primitive life-like systems (on the basis of investigations of present organisms); and (3) constructive approaches for making life-like systems (on the basis of molecular biology), such as in vitro construction of the RNA world. Naturally, simulation experiments of chemical evolution under plausible ancient Earth environments have been recognized as a potentially fruitful approach. Nevertheless, simulation experiments seem not to be sufficient for identifying the scenario from molecules to life. This is because primitive Earth environments are still not clearly defined and a number of possibilities should be taken into account. In addition, such environments frequently comprise extreme conditions when compared to the environments of present organisms. Therefore, we need to realize the importance of accurate and convenient experimental approaches that use practical research tools, which are resistant to high temperature and pressure, to facilitate chemical evolution studies. This review summarizes improvements made in such experimental approaches over the last two decades, focusing primarily on our hydrothermal microflow reactor technology. Microflow reactor systems are a powerful tool for performing simulation experiments in diverse simulated hydrothermal Earth conditions in order to measure the kinetics of formation and degradation and the interactions of biopolymers. Full article
Figures

Open AccessReview
Ancient Living Organisms Escaping from, or Imprisoned in, the Vents?
Life 2017, 7(3), 36; doi:10.3390/life7030036 -
Abstract
We have recently criticised the natural pH gradient hypothesis which purports to explain how the difference in pH between fluid issuing from ancient alkali vents and the more acidic Hadean ocean could have driven molecular machines that catalyse reactions that are useful in
[...] Read more.
We have recently criticised the natural pH gradient hypothesis which purports to explain how the difference in pH between fluid issuing from ancient alkali vents and the more acidic Hadean ocean could have driven molecular machines that catalyse reactions that are useful in prebiotic and autotrophic chemistry. In this article, we temporarily suspend our earlier criticism while we consider difficulties for primitive organisms to have managed their energy supply and to have left the vents and become free-living. We point out that it may have been impossible for organisms to have acquired membrane-located proton (or sodium ion) pumps to replace the natural pH gradient, and independently to have driven essential molecular machines such as the ATP synthase. The volumes of the ocean and of the vent fluids were too large for a membrane-located pump to have generated a significant ion concentration gradient. Our arguments apply to three of the four concurrent models employed by the proponents of the natural pH gradient hypothesis. A fourth model is exempt from these arguments but has other intrinsic difficulties that we briefly consider. We conclude that ancient organisms utilising a natural pH gradient would have been imprisoned in the vents, unable to escape and become free-living. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle
Double Hydrogen Bonding between Side Chain Carboxyl Groups in Aqueous Solutions of Poly (β-L-Malic Acid): Implication for the Evolutionary Origin of Nucleic Acids
Life 2017, 7(3), 35; doi:10.3390/life7030035 -
Abstract
The RNA world hypothesis holds that in the evolutionary events that led to the emergence of life RNA preceded proteins and DNA and is supported by the ability of RNA to act as both a genetic polymer and a catalyst. On the other
[...] Read more.
The RNA world hypothesis holds that in the evolutionary events that led to the emergence of life RNA preceded proteins and DNA and is supported by the ability of RNA to act as both a genetic polymer and a catalyst. On the other hand, biosynthesis of nucleic acids requires a large number of enzymes and chemical synthesis of RNA under presumed prebiotic conditions is complicated and requires many sequential steps. These observations suggest that biosynthesis of RNA is the end product of a long evolutionary process. If so, what was the original polymer from which RNA and DNA evolved? In most syntheses of simpler RNA or DNA analogs, the D-ribose phosphate polymer backbone is altered and the purine and pyrimidine bases are retained for hydrogen bonding between complementary base pairs. However, the bases are themselves products of complex biosynthetic pathways and hence they too may have evolved from simpler polymer side chains that had the ability to form hydrogen bonds. We hypothesize that the earliest evolutionary predecessor of nucleic acids was the simple linear polyester, poly (β-D-malic acid), for which the carboxyl side chains could form double hydrogen bonds. In this study, we show that in accord with this hypothesis a closely related polyester, poly (β-L-malic acid), uses carboxyl side chains to form robust intramolecular double hydrogen bonds in moderately acidic solution. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessHypothesis
Life’s Late Digital Revolution and Why It Matters for the Study of the Origins of Life
Life 2017, 7(3), 34; doi:10.3390/life7030034 -
Abstract
The information contained in life exists in two forms, analog and digital. Analog information is manifest mainly in the differing concentrations of chemicals that get passed from generation to generation and can vary from cell to cell. Digital information is encoded in linear
[...] Read more.
The information contained in life exists in two forms, analog and digital. Analog information is manifest mainly in the differing concentrations of chemicals that get passed from generation to generation and can vary from cell to cell. Digital information is encoded in linear polymers such as DNA and RNA, whose side chains come in discrete chemical forms. Here, we argue that the analog form of information preceded the digital. Acceptance of this dichotomy, and this progression, can help direct future studies on how life originated and initially complexified on the primordial Earth, as well as expected trajectories for other, independent origins of complex life. Full article
Open AccessReview
Characterization of Reconstructed Ancestral Proteins Suggests a Change in Temperature of the Ancient Biosphere
Life 2017, 7(3), 33; doi:10.3390/life7030033 -
Abstract
Understanding the evolution of ancestral life, and especially the ability of some organisms to flourish in the variable environments experienced in Earth’s early biosphere, requires knowledge of the characteristics and the environment of these ancestral organisms. Information about early life and environmental conditions
[...] Read more.
Understanding the evolution of ancestral life, and especially the ability of some organisms to flourish in the variable environments experienced in Earth’s early biosphere, requires knowledge of the characteristics and the environment of these ancestral organisms. Information about early life and environmental conditions has been obtained from fossil records and geological surveys. Recent advances in phylogenetic analysis, and an increasing number of protein sequences available in public databases, have made it possible to infer ancestral protein sequences possessed by ancient organisms. However, the in silico studies that assess the ancestral base content of ribosomal RNAs, the frequency of each amino acid in ancestral proteins, and estimate the environmental temperatures of ancient organisms, show conflicting results. The characterization of ancestral proteins reconstructed in vitro suggests that ancient organisms had very thermally stable proteins, and therefore were thermophilic or hyperthermophilic. Experimental data supports the idea that only thermophilic ancestors survived the catastrophic increase in temperature of the biosphere that was likely associated with meteorite impacts during the early history of Earth. In addition, by expanding the timescale and including more ancestral proteins for reconstruction, it appears as though the Earth’s surface temperature gradually decreased over time, from Archean to present. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessReview
Nitrogenous Derivatives of Phosphorus and the Origins of Life: Plausible Prebiotic Phosphorylating Agents in Water
Life 2017, 7(3), 32; doi:10.3390/life7030032 -
Abstract
Phosphorylation under plausible prebiotic conditions continues to be one of the defining issues for the role of phosphorus in the origins of life processes. In this review, we cover the reactions of alternative forms of phosphate, specifically the nitrogenous versions of phosphate (and
[...] Read more.
Phosphorylation under plausible prebiotic conditions continues to be one of the defining issues for the role of phosphorus in the origins of life processes. In this review, we cover the reactions of alternative forms of phosphate, specifically the nitrogenous versions of phosphate (and other forms of reduced phosphorus species) from a prebiotic, synthetic organic and biochemistry perspective. The ease with which such amidophosphates or phosphoramidate derivatives phosphorylate a wide variety of substrates suggests that alternative forms of phosphate could have played a role in overcoming the “phosphorylation in water problem”. We submit that serious consideration should be given to the search for primordial sources of nitrogenous versions of phosphate and other versions of phosphorus. Full article
Figures

Open AccessArticle
Tracing the Repertoire of Promiscuous Enzymes along the Metabolic Pathways in Archaeal Organisms
Life 2017, 7(3), 30; doi:10.3390/life7030030 -
Abstract
The metabolic pathways that carry out the biochemical transformations sustaining life depend on the efficiency of their associated enzymes. In recent years, it has become clear that promiscuous enzymes have played an important role in the function and evolution of metabolism. In this
[...] Read more.
The metabolic pathways that carry out the biochemical transformations sustaining life depend on the efficiency of their associated enzymes. In recent years, it has become clear that promiscuous enzymes have played an important role in the function and evolution of metabolism. In this work we analyze the repertoire of promiscuous enzymes in 89 non-redundant genomes of the Archaea cellular domain. Promiscuous enzymes are defined as those proteins with two or more different Enzyme Commission (E.C.) numbers, according the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) database. From this analysis, it was found that the fraction of promiscuous enzymes is lower in Archaea than in Bacteria. A greater diversity of superfamily domains is associated with promiscuous enzymes compared to specialized enzymes, both in Archaea and Bacteria, and there is an enrichment of substrate promiscuity rather than catalytic promiscuity in the archaeal enzymes. Finally, the presence of promiscuous enzymes in the metabolic pathways was found to be heterogeneously distributed at the domain level and in the phyla that make up the Archaea. These analyses increase our understanding of promiscuous enzymes and provide additional clues to the evolution of metabolism in Archaea. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessReview
A Chemist’s Perspective on the Role of Phosphorus at the Origins of Life
Life 2017, 7(3), 31; doi:10.3390/life7030031 -
Abstract
The central role that phosphates play in biological systems, suggests they also played an important role in the emergence of life on Earth. In recent years, numerous important advances have been made towards understanding the influence that phosphates may have had on prebiotic
[...] Read more.
The central role that phosphates play in biological systems, suggests they also played an important role in the emergence of life on Earth. In recent years, numerous important advances have been made towards understanding the influence that phosphates may have had on prebiotic chemistry, and here, we highlight two important aspects of prebiotic phosphate chemistry. Firstly, we discuss prebiotic phosphorylation reactions; we specifically contrast aqueous electrophilic phosphorylation, and aqueous nucleophilic phosphorylation strategies, with dry-state phosphorylations that are mediated by dissociative phosphoryl-transfer. Secondly, we discuss the non-structural roles that phosphates can play in prebiotic chemistry. Here, we focus on the mechanisms by which phosphate has guided prebiotic reactivity through catalysis or buffering effects, to facilitating selective transformations in neutral water. Several prebiotic routes towards the synthesis of nucleotides, amino acids, and core metabolites, that have been facilitated or controlled by phosphate acting as a general acid–base catalyst, pH buffer, or a chemical buffer, are outlined. These facile and subtle mechanisms for incorporation and exploitation of phosphates to orchestrate selective, robust prebiotic chemistry, coupled with the central and universally conserved roles of phosphates in biochemistry, provide an increasingly clear message that understanding phosphate chemistry will be a key element in elucidating the origins of life on Earth. Full article
Figures

Open AccessArticle
Silicate-Promoted Phosphorylation of Glycerol in Non-Aqueous Solvents: A Prebiotically Plausible Route to Organophosphates
Life 2017, 7(3), 29; doi:10.3390/life7030029 -
Abstract
Phosphorylation reactions of glycerol were studied using different inorganic phosphates such as sodium phosphate, trimetaphosphate (a condensed phosphate), and struvite. The reactions were carried out in two non-aqueous solvents: formamide and a eutectic solvent consisting of choline-chloride and glycerol in a ratio of
[...] Read more.
Phosphorylation reactions of glycerol were studied using different inorganic phosphates such as sodium phosphate, trimetaphosphate (a condensed phosphate), and struvite. The reactions were carried out in two non-aqueous solvents: formamide and a eutectic solvent consisting of choline-chloride and glycerol in a ratio of 1:2.5. The glycerol reacted in formamide and in the eutectic solvent with phosphate to yield its phosphorylated derivatives in the presence of silicates such as quartz sand and kaolinite clay. The reactions were carried out by heating glycerol with a phosphate source at 85 °C for one week and were analyzed by 31P-nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and mass spectrometry (MS). The yield of the phosphorylated glycerol was improved by the presence of silicates, and reached 90% in some experiments. Our findings further support the proposal that non-aqueous solvents are advantageous for the prebiotic synthesis of biomolecules, and suggest that silicates may have aided in the formation of organophosphates on the prebiotic earth. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle
Better than Membranes at the Origin of Life?
Life 2017, 7(2), 28; doi:10.3390/life7020028 -
Abstract
Organelles without membranes are found in all types of cells and typically contain RNA and protein. RNA and protein are the constituents of ribosomes, one of the most ancient cellular structures. It is reasonable to propose that organelles without membranes preceded protocells and
[...] Read more.
Organelles without membranes are found in all types of cells and typically contain RNA and protein. RNA and protein are the constituents of ribosomes, one of the most ancient cellular structures. It is reasonable to propose that organelles without membranes preceded protocells and other membrane-bound structures at the origins of life. Such membraneless organelles would be well sheltered in the spaces between mica sheets, which have many advantages as a site for the origins of life. Full article
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessFeature PaperConference Report
The Landscape of the Emergence of Life
Life 2017, 7(2), 27; doi:10.3390/life7020027 -
Abstract
This paper reports on the various nuances of the origins of life on Earth and highlights the latest findings in that arena as reported at the Network of Researchers on Horizontal Gene Transfer and the Last Universal Common Ancestor (NoR HGT and LUCA)
[...] Read more.
This paper reports on the various nuances of the origins of life on Earth and highlights the latest findings in that arena as reported at the Network of Researchers on Horizontal Gene Transfer and the Last Universal Common Ancestor (NoR HGT and LUCA) which was held from the 3–4th November 2016 at the Open University, UK. Although the answers to the question of the origin of life on Earth will not be fathomable anytime soon, a wide variety of subject matter was able to be covered, ranging from examining what constitutes a LUCA, looking at viral connections and “from RNA to DNA”, i.e., could DNA have been formed simultaneously with RNA, rather than RNA first and then describing the emergence of DNA from RNA. Also discussed are proteins and the origins of genomes as well as various ideas that purport to explain the origin of life here on Earth and potentially further afield elsewhere on other planets. Full article