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Chemist Shows How RNA May Have Formed

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May 15, 2009 Tags: History of Life
Chemist Shows How RNA May Have Formed

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team. You can read more about what we believe here.

For 20 years, the question of how nucleotides, the building blocks of both RNA and DNA, could have spontaneously formed during the beginning of our planet has beguiled researchers. The problem seemed so insurmountable, in fact, that in 1999 two leading researchers, Gerald Joyce and Leslie Orgel, remarked the spontaneous appearance of nucleotides "would have been a near miracle."

However, John D. Sullivan, a chemist from the University of Manchester, and his colleagues Matthew W. Powner and Béatrice Gerland have discovered a "recipe" for the nucleotides using the same base component thought to have existed on a primitive Earth. So far, he has only been able to recreate two of the four nucleotides, but he is confident the other two will soon follow.

"My assumption is that we are here on this planet as a fundamental consequence of organic chemistry," said Sullivan in regards to his discovery.

Do you agree with Dr. Sullivan? Does such a discovery necessarily imply we are the products of chemical laws? Can a peace exist between this breakthrough discovery and belief in a divine creator?

The full story of Dr. Sullivan's discovery can be found in The New York Times. His research paper was recently published in the science journal Nature and is available to all subscribers.

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Rev. Scott Mapes - #51462

February 17th 2011

I wonder if anyone has any current information on this continuing study.  The fact that it took scientific intervention to replicate the nucleotides indicates that a Creator likely would have been involved.

jkua - #58037

April 14th 2011

The chemist who led the 2009 study is John Sutherland (NOT Sullivan as written in the blog).
While this was indeed a breakthrough towards making pyrimidine nucleotides (C and U) from simpler chemical components, one of the drawbacks of the synthetic route employed was that several of the steps required different reaction conditions. This included purification of the intermediates between reaction steps for ease of analysis. The synthetic route employed also precluded the making of the purine nucleotides (A and G).

Sutherland’s research group has followed up on this work by employing a different synthetic strategy that involves a multicomponent synthesis, i.e., employing chemical reactions closer to a “one-pot” synthesis. This strategy is broad enough to encompass both the purine and the pyrimidine nucleotides. A publication in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in late 2010 covers the progress they have made, including synthesis of promising intermediates to purine nucleotides. They also outline the remaining steps to be taken. The citation for their work is:

Powner, M.W.; Sutherland, J.D.; Szostak, J.W.
J. Am. Chem. Soc. (2010) vol. 132, pp.16677-16688.

The paper is thorough, although hard to follow if you are not an organic chemist.

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