Thursday, December 25, 2008

LUCA:Last Universal Common Ancestor

In trying to find the elements necessary for the origin of life, another question of importance is "what was the last universal original ancestor of life?"

A 3.8-billion-year-old organism was not the creature usually imagined. In LUCA, the prevailing belief is that it was a heat-loving or hyperthermophilic organism; like those odd organisms living in the hot vents along the continental ridges deep in the oceans today, above 90 degrees Celsius .
However, the new data suggests that LUCA was actually sensitive to warmer temperatures and lived in a climate below 50 degrees.

The research compared genetic information from modern organisms to characterize the ancient ancestor of all life on earth. Researchers identified common genetic traits between animals, plant, bacteria, and used them to create a tree of life with branches representing separate species. These all stemmed from the same trunk – LUCA, the genetic makeup that we then further characterized.

The RNA Connection to the Origin of Life
What this means is that in the origin of life question an important step has taken place towards reconciling conflicting ideas about LUCA. In particular, they are much more compatible with the theory of an early RNA world, where early life on Earth was composed of ribonucleic acid (RNA), rather than deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

RNA is particularly sensitive to heat and is unlikely to be stable in the hot temperatures of the early Earth. But the data indicate that LUCA found a cooler micro-climate to develop, which helps resolve this paradox and shows that environmental micro domains played a critical role in the development of life on Earth.

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