Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's Aliiiiiiiive!

Well, technically it isn't, but it IS self-replicating.
One of the most enduring questions is how life could have begun on Earth. Molecules that can make copies of themselves are thought to be crucial to understanding this process as they provide the basis for heritability, a critical characteristic of living systems. Now, a pair of Scripps Research Institute scientists has taken a significant step toward answering that question. The scientists have synthesized for the first time RNA enzymes that can replicate themselves without the help of any proteins or other cellular components, and the process proceeds indefinitely.
Very cool stuff! And what's even cooler is that they evolve:
Most of the time the replicating enzymes would breed true, but on occasion an enzyme would make a mistake by binding one of the subunits from one of the other replicating enzymes. When such "mutations" occurred, the resulting recombinant enzymes also were capable of sustained replication, with the most fit replicators growing in number to dominate the mixture.
The scientists do come right out and say that their creations aren't actually alive, but they do share some properties of live organisms. I don't think it'll be long before life is created in a test tube.

Discovered via a thread on my favorite message board.

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