Was There Once an RNA World of Life?

David E. Scheim des at helix.nih.gov
Tue Aug 18 07:44:17 EST 1992


I've heard some theories that RNA/DNA type molecules were the first forms
of life.  It seems more intuitive to me, however, that life began as
bubbles on the beach, evolving into primitive cells with membranes whose
division into new cells was initially propelled by simple osmotic forces.
One could speculate that genetic material evolved later, allowing for more
complex characteristics to develop and be stably maintained in the cell
line.

The seminal work of C. Don Cone during the 1960s and 1970s in fact has
demonstrated how considerations of membrane voltage and ionic composition
are critical to understanding mitosis, and that in fact you can make adult
neural cells divide by manipulating the ionic environment to induce cell
depolarization (and also block cell division using a similar technique).

It seems to me that biology has become overly infatuated by the recent
discovery of genetics, trying to explain everything from the origin of life
to cancer in these terms.  I would appreciate any comments as to what
current knowledge indicates as to whether the "bubble on the beach"
hypothesis for the origin of life may have been possible.  --David Scheim.



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