http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/272710

Nature study shows synthesis of RNA building-blocks is possible

Posted May 17, 2009 by Julian Worker
A team from Manchester University have been able to synthesise two of the four building blocks of Ribo-Nucleic Acid (RNA), the self-replicating molecule that is widely believed to be the original molecule of life.
How did Life on Earth begin? Charles Darwin himself was only able to suggest a vague notion that Life on Earth started in a kind of primordial soup. However, in the year of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, scientists at Manchester University in the UK have developed an experiment that shows how the first self-replicating molecules might have formed about 4 billion years ago. This study has been published in the journal Nature.
Dr John Sutherland and his Manchester colleagues have been able to synthesise, almost from scratch, two of the four building blocks of Ribo-Nucleic Acid (RNA), the self-replicating molecule that is widely believed to be the original molecule of life. Dr Sutherland believes that his research team has shown how to make all the building blocks of RNA just from the simple chemicals that existed on Earth 4 billion years ago.
RNA shouldn’t be confused with DNA, the blueprint of Life. Although RNA can carry and transmit information from generation to generation, it is a simple molecule that scientists believe could have been comparatively easy to synthesise in the harsh environment of the early Earth. The idea for this synthesis has been around for 40 years, but until now no one has been able to combine the phosphates, bases, and sugars that comprise each of the four building blocks of RNA, under the sort of conditions that existed 4 billion years ago.
Scientists found they could make the sugars and the bases but they couldn’t combine them. However, Dr Sutherland’s team took a fresh approach and changed the order of assembly of the elements of RNA, an option that seems to have been successful.
Over many years, these RNA molecules would have formed more complex substances containing oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen. Scientists have always been able to make the building blocks of proteins in this way, but until now have always failed to create the basic DNA and RNA.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that scientists found that RNA could act as a catalyst by speeding up a chemical reaction and yet remain unchanged in the process – the first real evidence that RNA could have triggered the first synthesis of life's proteins. Most scientists now believe that RNA existed in the primordial soup and that all present-day life is descended from this.