Scientists Find Missing Link that Led to Life on Earth

{He it is who gives life and causes death; and when He decrees a matter, He but says to it, “Be,” and it is.} [Surat Ghafir 40:68].

Causality is the natural or worldly agency or efficacy that connects the cause with the effect. The first is responsible for the second, and the second is dependent on the first.

Causation is an abstraction that indicates how the world progresses. It’s a very basic concept that is more apt as an explanation of other concepts of progression than as something to be explained by others more basic.

Allah Almighty has created the universe and its rules which outline how it works. God encourages us in the Holy Qur’an to search and discover these rules.

{Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.} [Surat Ali ‘imran 3:190-191].

In parallel with these Qur’anic guidelines, explained to the believers by Almighty Allah, the Muslim scientists have worked hard since the medieval time to lay down the scientific basis of understanding the origin of life on Earth.

Islamic Thoughts

In Kitab al-Hayawan, the 9th century’s Muslim scientist Al-Jahiz references the modern-day evolutionary theory. He mentioned animal embryology, adaptation, and animal psychology. He described his notable observation that stronger rats were able to compete better for resources than small birds. This is typical reference to the modern-day theory of “struggle for existence”.

During the same century, the Muslim scholar Ibn Miskawahy wrote about the evolution of man in his books, Tahdhib and Fawz al-asghar.

In the 14th century, the Muslim intellect Ibn Khaldun wrote the Muqaddimah or Prolegomena. He mentioned the “gradual process of creation.” He’ve also stated that the Earth began with abiotic components such as minerals. Slowly, primitive stages of plants such as herbs and seedless plants developed. Then eventually palms and vines.

Found It

Now in the 21st century, molecular biologists seem to have completed this research. They nearly came to the conclusion about the genesis of life on Earth. Something that has been well established long ago by the above-mentioned medieval Muslim intellectuals.

Chemists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have found a compound that may have been a crucial factor in the origins of life on Earth. reported on November 6.

Researchers have hypothesized that a chemical reaction called phosphorylation may have been crucial for the assembly of three key ingredients in early earth lifeforms. These keys are short strands of nucleotides to store genetic information. Second, short chains of amino acids (peptides) to do the main work of cells. And finally, lipids to form encapsulating structures such as cell walls.

Yet, no one has ever found a phosphorylating agent that was plausibly present on early Earth. This agent could have produced these three classes of molecules side-by-side under the same realistic conditions. TSRI chemists have now identified just such a compound: diamidophosphate (DAP).

“We suggest a phosphorylation chemistry that could have given rise, all in the same place, to oligonucleotides, oligopeptides, and the cell-like structures to enclose them,” said study senior author Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, associate professor of chemistry at TSRI.

“That in turn would have allowed other chemistries that weren’t possible before. Thus, potentially leading to the first simple, cell-based living entities,” he continued.

Life’s Building Blocks

The study, reported in Nature Chemistry, is part of an ongoing effort by scientists around the world to find plausible routes for the epic journey from pre-biological chemistry to cell-based biochemistry.

Other researchers have described chemical reactions that might have enabled the phosphorylation of pre-biological molecules on the early Earth. But these scenarios have involved different phosphorylating agents for different types of molecule. Besides, different and often uncommon reaction environments.

“It has been hard to imagine how these very different processes could have combined in the same place. They are important to yield the first primitive lifeforms,” said Krishnamurthy.

He and his team, including co-first authors Clémentine Gibard, Subhendu Bhowmik, and Megha Karki, all postdoctoral research associates at TSRI, showed first that DAP could phosphorylate each of the four nucleoside building blocks of RNA in water or a paste-like state under a wide range of temperatures and other conditions.

With the addition of the catalyst imidazole, a simple organic compound that was itself plausibly present on the early Earth, DAP’s activity also led to the appearance of short, RNA-like chains of these phosphorylated building blocks.

Moreover, DAP with water and imidazole efficiently phosphorylated the lipid building blocks glycerol and fatty acids. This leads to the self-assembly of small phospho-lipid capsules called vesicles—primitive versions of cells.

DAP in water at room temperature also phosphorylated the amino acids glycine, aspartic acid and glutamic acid. Then, it helped link these molecules into short peptide chains (peptides are smaller versions of proteins).

“With DAP and water and these mild conditions, you can get these three important classes of pre-biological molecules to come together and transform. This would create the opportunity for them to interact together,” Krishnamurthy said.

Krishnamurthy and his colleagues have shown previously that DAP can efficiently phosphorylate a variety of simple sugars. It can thus help construct phosphorus-containing carbohydrates. These molecules in turn were involved in early life forms. Their new work suggests that DAP could have had a much more central role in the origins of life.

“It reminds me of the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, who waves a wand and ‘poof,’ ‘poof,’ ‘poof,’. Everything simple transforms into something more complex and interesting,” Krishnamurthy said.

Models of Early-Earth

DAP’s importance in kick-starting life on Earth could be hard to prove several billion years after the fact. Krishnamurthy noted, though, that key aspects of the molecule’s chemistry are still in modern biology.

“DAP phosphorylates via the same phosphorus-nitrogen bond breakage and under the same conditions as protein kinases, which are ubiquitous in present-day lifeforms,” he said. “DAP’s phosphorylation chemistry also closely resembles what is seen in the reactions at the heart of every cell’s metabolic cycle.”

Krishnamurthy now plans to follow these leads, and he has also teamed with early-Earth geochemists to try to identify potential sources of DAP, or similarly acting phosphorus-nitrogen compounds, that were on the planet before life arose.

“There may have been minerals on the early Earth that released such phosphorus-nitrogen compounds under the right conditions,” he said. “Astronomers have found evidence for phosphorus-nitrogen compounds in the gas and dust of interstellar space, so it’s certainly plausible that such compounds were present on the early Earth and played a role in the emergence of the complex molecules of life.”

Indeed as Allah Almighty has said: {Within the heavens and earth are signs for the believers. And in the creation of yourselves and what He disperses of moving creatures are signs for people who are certain [in faith]. And [in] the alternation of night and day and [in] what Allah sends down from the sky of provision and gives life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and [in His] directing of the winds are signs for a people who reason. These are the verses of Allah which We recite to you in truth. Then in what statement after Allah and His verses will they believe?}. [Surat Al-Jathiyah 45: 3-6].