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Life Origins (DNA Basics)

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This page is especially dedicated to all the courageous earthlings whom have dedicated countless hours of their lives researching and discovering the of the origins of life

Life: A preliminary discussion of the DeoxyriboNucleic Acid (DNA) helix. Lets start by removing all the mystery and reducing "LIFE" to its most basic physical definition. For this part of the discussion, life is defined as a growing chain of carbon chemical elements in amino acid. This is a chemical compound that can:

  1. Build protein for maintaining cell stability and growth.
  2. Reproduce or duplicate a chemical chain in it's own form.

The cell does not need to make decisions, nor does it require a protective cover. This "new life form" will use the chemicals in the amino acid environment to grow. There are a lot of long Latin names for these chemicals and the reactions. The important part is to understand the process or concept of what happened. The technical names and definitions will follow this discussion.

The basic DNA helix looks something like the picture at left. The backbones (spiral portions) are made of sugars and phosphates.

All the cross-link (rungs) are made of four (4) different materials called bases. They have very specific properties. It is not important to know what they are, just that chemical reactions are limited. The bases are Cytosine base, Guanine base, Adenine base and Thymine base.

These four (4) bases with four (4) arrangement possibilities, can generate sixteen (16) different code sequences. This is referred to as a genetic code. This code is the essence of life. To understand the function of DNA, you will need a little history about the formation of life and then a few new definitions.

How could primitive life start on Earth? Lets look at the history of the earth to see what physical conditions existed and what opportunities were available. The oldest rocks found in Greenland, from about 3.8 billion years ago, tell us that as the Earth's crust cooled and solidified. We expect the atmosphere was reducing, or chemically breaking down, from methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), 80% nitrogen (N2), and ammonia (NH3).

(Reference only)

Presence of sedimentary rocks implies liquid water was present, the primordial soup. Volcanoes spit out sulfur, molten Lava and volcanic ash.

Lightning storms and volcanoes raged all over the hot Earth surface. The conditions were hostile to human life but they were right to start the DNA chain of events and it was only a matter of time.

Click picture large view

Oparins's Hypothesis and Millers Experiment

Millers Experiment: Conditions believed to have existed on the primitive earth were simulated in the apparatus diagramed here. Methane (CH4) and ammonia (NH3) were continuously circulated between a lower ocean that was heated and an upper atmosphere through which an electric discharge was transmitted. At the end of 24 hours, about half the carbon originally present in the methane gas was converted to amino acids and other organic molecules. This was the first test of Oparins's Hypothesis.

Biology, fifth edition, 1989 Worth Publishers, Inc., Editor Sally Anderson, ISBN 0-87901-394-X

* Do a web search of Russian Biochemist "A. I. Oparin"

Cell Membranes are produced through a series of chemical reactions, beginning with dry mixtures of amino acids. When the mixtures are heated at moderate temperatures, polymers (Known as thermal proteinoids) are formed, each of which may contain as many as 200 amino acid monomers. When these polymers are placed in an aqueous salt solution and maintained under suitable conditions, they spontaneously form proteinoid microspheres.

Picture is coming,

I am having some program problems.

We can add an additional requirement to our definition of life. There must be a membrane to separate the cell from its environment and enable our cell to have a distinct chemical identity. In other studies that simulate primitive Earth conditions, Sidney W. Fox with the University of Miami, produced membrane bound protein structures that can carry out chemical reactions analogous to those of living cells.

The microspheres grow slowly by the addition of proteinoid material from the solution and eventually bud off small microspheres. These microspheres are not living cells, they can not build protein. This is the container that holds the self sustaining protein entities, allowing them to carry out the chemical reactions necessary to maintain physical and chemical integrity

1988 German Biochemist Gunter Wachtershauser - Christal surface and salt bath. Implication is life may be generating today in undersea volcanic vents.

During a period, around 3.5 billion years ago, our world's oldest micro-organisms (Prokaryote) could be found.

Prokaryote: An organism of the kingdom Prokaryotae, constituting the bacteria and cyanobacteria, characterized by the absence of a nuclear membrane and by DNA that is not organized into thread like structures called chromosomes.

Prokaryote cell, believed to be the first primitive life on earth. Note the lack of a nuclear membrane when we compare this to it's ancestors.

Electron Micrograph and diagram of a photosynthetic prokaryotic cell, the cyanobacterium Anabaena azollae. Anabaena synthesizes its own energy rich organic compounds in chemical reactions powered by radiant energy from the sun.

Click the image or click here for a large view of the Prokaryote cell.

N. J. Lang, 1965 Journal of Phycology, 1, 127-134

Click Here This microfossil of a filament of Bacteria-like cells was found in western Australia in a deposit of flint like rock known as black chert. Dated at 3.5 billion years of age, it is one of the oldest fossils known. S. M. Awramik/Biological Photo Service

How does DNA, work? Here are some definitions to help you.

Amino acid: An organic (containing carbon atoms) compound containing both an amino group (NH2) and a carboxylic acid group (COOH), especially any of the 20 compounds that have the basic formula NH2CHRCOOH, and that link together by chemical bonds, called peptide bonds, to form proteins. This is the building block of life.

Nucleic acid: Any of a group of complex compounds found in all living cells and viruses, composed of purines, pyrimidines, ribose sugar, and phospho diester backbone. Nucleic acids in the form of DeoxyriboNucleic Acid (DNA) and RiboNucleic Acid (RNA) control cellular function and heredity.

Chromosome: Thread like structures found in the nucleus comprised primarily of DNA.

A threadlike linear strand of DNA and associated proteins in the nucleus of animal and plant cells that carries the genes and functions in the transmission of hereditary information.

Ribosome: A minute, round particle composed of RNA and protein found in the cytoplasm of living cells and active in the synthesis of proteins. The ribosome reads the RNA codes and uses amino acid to build protein.

Protein: Any of a group of complex organic macromolecules that contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and usually sulfur and are composed of one or more chains of amino acids. Proteins are fundamental components of all living cells and include many substances, such as enzymes, hormones, and antibodies, which are necessary for the proper functioning of an organism. They are essential in the diet of animals for the growth and repair of tissue and can be obtained from foods such as meat, fish, eggs, and milk.

Condon: A sub unit of protein or a set of three bases. A group of three bases which encodes a specific amino acid.

Enzyme: Any proteins produced by living organisms and functioning as biochemical catalysts.

Catalyst: A substance, usually used in small amounts relative to the reactants, that modifies and increases the rate of a reaction without being consumed in the process.

Animated graphics may be possible here. I am still collecting information.

If you have any good pictures to describe this, it will help.

The RNA molecule leaves the nucleic acid to link with the ribosome molecule that will act as a catalyst to interpret the RNA code. The ribosome molecule then reads the Condon code and uses amino acid to make a specific protein molecule. This process destroys the RNA.

Animated graphics may be possible here. I am still collecting information.

If you have any good pictures to describe this, it will help.

Each base end will attach it's self to the matching end and a new helix backbone is extracted from the chemicals in the nucleic acid to complete the formation. The cells genetic information is copied perfectly because of the limited chemical availability and two (2) new DNA strands are formed from each half of the original DNA strand. The cell is ready to divide.

"Physical Life" is a growing carbon chain in nucleic acid and amino acids acids, used to assemble protein in a similar continuous, controlled, chemical reaction, with a membrane to separate the cell from its environment and enable our cell to have a distinct chemical identity

Note: This life forming process happened on Earth during 5 billion years. There are 5 billion-trillion stars in the universe which has existed for 15 billion years (by Earth time). Could this process have occurred on a distant planet? Could another civilization have developed before our planet was formed?

Alpha Centauri is a planet, located 4.3 light years from Earth, which has conditions very similar to Earth. Hummmm???

Life had started and evolution began.

  1. 2,600 million years ago, still the Precambrian era, the Earth moves into the Proterozoic period. The first evidence of Photosynthesis.
  2. Photosynthesis: The process in green plants and certain other organisms by which carbohydrates are synthesized from carbon dioxide and water using light as an energy source. Most forms of photosynthesis release oxygen as a byproduct.

  3. 1,000 million years ago, The nucleus is covered.
  4. Eukaryote: single-celled or multi-cellular organism whose cells contain a distinct membrane-bound nucleus.

    Click Here Electron Micrograph and diagram of chalamy domonas, a photosynthetic eukaryotic cell. The most prominent component is the single, irregular shaped chloroplast that fills most of the shell. The mitochondria, provide energy for cellular functions. The food reserves are in the form of starch granules. A fluid (Cytoplasm) fills the membrane and the cell wall is composed of another fluid (polysaccharides).

    Biology, fifth edition, 1989 Worth Publishers, Inc., Editor Sally Anderson, ISBN 0-87901-394-X, George Palade

    Osmosis: Diffusion of fluid through a semi-permeable membrane until there is an equal concentration of fluid on both sides of the membrane. The membrane often is used to only allow certain selected material through.

  5. Colonize
  6. Looking for good graphics

    Animal - Coral or other

    Looking for good graphics

    plant - moss or other

  7. Specialize
  8. Looking for good graphics

    Animal - hydra, Good example

    Looking for good graphics

    Plant - fern or other

  9. There are five (5) billion base pairs in a human gene sequence.

23 pairs, 46 chromosomes; Please explain this?

This is a good place for a brief discussion of modern cell structure.

Click Here Electron micrograph, and diagram, of a cell from the leaf of a corn plant. The nucleus can be seen on the right side of the central cell. The granular material within the nucleus is chromatin; It contains DNA associated with histone proteins. Note the many mitochondria and chloroplasts, all enclosed by membranes. The vacuole and cell wall are characteristic of plant cells but are generally not found in animal cells.

Biology, fifth edition, 1989 Worth Publishers, Inc., Editor Sally Anderson, ISBN 0-87901-394-X, Michael A. Walsh

This was not a fast evolution, it took 3.5 billion years.

The drawing at left is a conceptual 3-D view of a typical plant cell. Click the image or click here for an enlarged view and additional details

Biology, fifth edition, 1989 Worth Publishers, Inc., Editor Sally Anderson, ISBN 0-87901-394-X

Oxidation: The combination of a substance with oxygen. A reaction in which the atoms in an element lose electrons and the valence of the element is correspondingly increased.

The drawing at left is a conceptual 3-D view of a typical animal cell. Click the image or click here for an enlarged view and additional details

Biology, fifth edition, 1989 Worth Publishers, Inc., Editor Sally Anderson, ISBN 0-87901-394-X

What is the importance of nitrogen and amino acid?

Most of the earth's atmosphere is comprised of nitrogen. The atmosphere is about 76.85% by weight and 79.1% by volume, nitrogen (N2), in a form inaccessible to life except for certain bacteria. Only a few microscopic organisms are able to incorporate nitrogen from the air into ammonia, nitrites and nitrates used by living systems. Plants incorporate the nitrogen in ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates into carbon-hydrogen compounds to form amino acids. Animals are able to synthesize some of their amino acids, using ammonia as a nitrogen source. The essential amino acids they cannot synthesize must be obtained directly or indirectly from plants.

People who eat meat usually get enough protein but vegetarians have to ensure they receive enough protein and the essential amino acids. The essential amino acids are lysine, tryptophan, threonine, methionine, phenylalanine, leucine, valine, and isoleucine for adult humans.

Source: Biology, fifth edition, 1989 Worth Publishers, Inc., Editor Sally Anderson, ISBN 0-87901-394-X

Would life be different if the ooze contained different chemicals?

How does the size of a planet effect the pressure? What if there was a different mix of chemicals? How does the temperature effect the results? There is a little piece of the Russian Biochemist A. I. Oparin in all of us. I am not going to answer this question; I will leave this for the reader to explore. Note: Research, Study, Theorize, Test, and Improve. Knowledge is the difference between a guess and a decision. See People for details.

Send me an email if you have suggestions and some supporting documents.

The remainder of this page is still preliminary!

That is the end of the basics for DNA, if you are still curious, let's get a little technical. This discussion assumes you understand the preceding discussion and the following definitions.

RNA, Ribonucleic acid: A polymeric constituent of all living cells and many viruses, consisting of a long, usually single-stranded chain of alternating phosphate and ribose units with the bases adenine, guanine, cytosine, and uracil bonded to the ribose. The structure and base sequence of RNA are determinants of protein synthesis and the transmission of genetic information. Also called ribonucleic acid.

DNA, Deoxyribonucleic acid: A nucleic acid that carries the genetic information in the cell and is capable of self-replication and synthesis of RNA. DNA consists of two long chains of nucleotides twisted into a double helix and joined by hydrogen bonds between the complementary bases adenine and thymine or cytosine and guanine. The sequence of nucleotides determines individual hereditary characteristics.

Nucleotides: Any of various compounds consisting of a nucleoside combined with a phosphate group and forming the basic constituent of DNA and RNA.

Recombinant DNA: Genetically engineered DNA prepared by transplanting or splicing genes from one species into the cells of a host organism of a different species. Such DNA becomes part of the host's genetic makeup and is replicated.

Genes: A hereditary unit that occupies a specific location on a chromosome and determines a particular characteristic in an organism. Genes exist in a number of different forms and can undergo mutation.

Peptide bond: The chemical bond formed between the carboxyl groups and amino groups of neighboring amino acids, constituting the primary linkage of all protein structures

Cytoplasm: The protoplasm outside the nucleus of a cell.

Polysaccharides: Any of a class of carbohydrates, such as starch and cellulose, consisting of a number of monosaccharides joined by glycosidic bonds.

Nucleus: A large, membrane-bound, usually spherical protoplasmic structure within a living cell, containing the cell's hereditary material and controlling its metabolism, growth, and reproduction.

Protoplasm: The complex, semifluid, translucent substance that constitutes the living matter of plant and animal cells and manifests the essential life functions of a cell. Composed of proteins, fats, and other molecules suspended in water, it includes the nucleus and cytoplasm

* Do a web search for more information on DNA.

* Do a web search for more information on RNA.

Final Discussion of the helix.

Still in research, I may need additional resources.

Cytosine pair with Guanine

Adenine pair with Thymine

Final Discussion of the cell structure. More definitions ... again.

Animal Cells: An assembly of chemical parts, the most important being the nucleus, which controls and regulates the cell function. The cell is filled with a jelly like cytoplasm and specialized chemical pockets. A flexible skin known as the plasma membrane surrounds the entire cell.

Plant Cells: Plant cells supply their own energy from sun light using chloroplasts and store cell sap in a vacuole. The cell wall is made of cellulose.

The Cell or Plasma Membrane: This is a thin doubled layer, which encloses the cytoplasm. Sugar, amino acids and other vital substances pass into the cell through special protein lined channels.

The Nucleus: The nucleus surrounds the DNA strands. The DNA builds the RNA, which is allowed to exit the nucleus through holes in the nucleus membrane, then build protein in the cell.

Endoplasmic Reticulum: (ER) is a membrane that takes two forms. These are used for general cell maintenance.

Centrioles: Centrioles are precisely arranged bundles of microtubules, which assist in cell division and regulate the production of microtubules.

Mitrochondria: Vital organs that release enzymes to liberate the energy stored in cell food.

Endocytosis and Exocytosis: A process that allows material to move in and out of a cell.

The Golgi Apparatus: This organ processes and modifies the cells newly produced proteins and prepares them to be discharged from the cell.

Lysomes: Lysomes are used to break down organic substances. This can be either food or the cells worn out organs.

Microtubules: These fibrous bundles are the internal skeleton, which can be dissolved or constructed quickly, enabling the cell to change shape.

Source: Science Explained, Henry Holt and Company; General Editor Colin A. Ronan, ISBN 0-8050-2551-0

What do we know from research studies of DNA and RNA?


Escherichia Coli: (E-Coli)

Biology, fifth edition, 1989 Worth Publishers, Inc., Editor Sally Anderson, ISBN 0-87901-394-X, Laura Riley/Bruce Coleman

Looking for good graphics


Genetic Engineering. I am a little over my head here. This is new for me.

  1. Grow yeast cells in a fermenter
  2. Break cell membrane and separate the nucleus
  3. Break nucleus membrane and remove DNA
  4. Add the new section
  1. Load virus and inject new yeast cells with new DNA. Cell splits with new DNA

I am looking for a size comparison of yeast and the virus.

Fight disease, target and flag system. Helps the bodies immunity system.

T cell

B cell



Plasmid Recombination

General References:

Science Explained

Henry Holt and Company; General Editor Colin A. Ronan

ISBN 0-8050-2551-0

Biochemical Engineering

Pub: Prentice Hall International Series; by James M Lee,

ISBN 0-13-085317-8

Biology, fifth edition, 1989 Worth Publishers, Inc., Editor Sally Anderson, ISBN 0-87901-394-X

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