O Brave New World!

This month’s Wired is reporting on a shocking scientific finding:

A self-assembling molecule synthesized in a laboratory may resemble the earliest form of information-carrying biological material, a transitional stage between lifeless chemicals and the complex genetic architectures of life. Called tPNA, short for thioester peptide nucleic acids, the molecules spontaneously mimic the shape of DNA and RNA when mixed together. Left on their own, they gather in shape-shifting strands that morph into stable configurations.

The article quotes one scientist on the implications of the discovery, not just for life’s evolutionary origins, but for creating completely different life forms in the laboratory:

According to University of Manchester organic chemist John Sutherland, who co-authored the Nature study showing how RNA’s ingredients could have formed, the new research is less important in providing primordial insight than in furthering the eventual creation of life in a laboratory.

“Ghadiri’s important and highly innovative new work potentially relates to the origin of life as we don’t yet know it,” said Sutherland. Life’s emergence took billions of years, a process now being compressed into the passage of a few human generations. “The possibility that humans could come up with an alternative biology that outdoes that which produced us is a mind-freeing and mind-bending concept,” he said.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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