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Liquid crystal phases of tiny DNA molecules point up new scenario for first life on Earth
Date:11/22/2007

A team led by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Milan has discovered some unexpected forms of liquid crystals of ultrashort DNA molecules immersed in water, providing a new scenario for a key step in the emergence of life on Earth.

CU-Boulder physics Professor Noel Clark said the team found that surprisingly short segments of DNA, lifes molecular carrier of genetic information, could assemble into several distinct liquid crystal phases that self-orient parallel to one another and stack into columns when placed in a water solution. Life is widely believed to have emerged as segments of DNA- or RNA-like molecules in a prebiotic soup solution of ancient organic molecules.

A paper on the subject was published in the Nov. 23 issue of Science. The paper was authored by Clark, Michi Nakata and Christopher Jones from CU-Boulder, Giuliano Zanchetta and Tommaso Bellini of the University of Milan, Brandon Chapman and Ronald Pindak of Brookhaven National Laboratory and Julie Cross of Argonne National Laboratory. Nakata died in September 2006.

Since the formation of molecular chains as uniform as DNA by random chemistry is essentially impossible, Clark said, scientists have been seeking effective ways for simple molecules to spontaneously self-select, chain-up and self-replicate. The new study shows that in a mixture of tiny fragments of DNA, those molecules capable of forming liquid crystals selectively condense into droplets in which conditions are favorable for them to be chemically linked into longer molecules with enhanced liquid crystal-forming tendencies, he said.

We found that even tiny fragments of double helix DNA can spontaneously self-assemble into columns that contain many molecules, Clark said. Our vision is that from the collection of ancient molecules, short RNA pieces or some structurally related precursor emerged as the molecular fragments most capable of condensing into liquid cry
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Contact: Noel Clark
noel.clark@colorado.edu
303-492-6420
University of Colorado at Boulder  
Source:Eurekalert

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