Scientists may have just found the chemical "missing link" for the origins of life on Earth

November 7, 2017 by  
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In attempting to recreate the conditions of Earth circa billions of years ago, a research team may have uncovered a key “missing link” in our knowledge of the origin of life on Earth. The discovery of diamidophosphate (DAP), a compound that may have been present in early Earth, is an exciting step forward in understanding how early life emerged from various ingredients and conditions. “It reminds me of the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, who waves a wand and ‘poof,’ ‘poof,’ ‘poof,’ everything simple is transformed into something more complex and interesting,” said Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy , senior author of the study published in  Nature Chemistry  and chemist at the Scripps Research Institute in California. The key to DAP’s “magic” is its ability to facilitate a process called phosphorylation, an essential process in the function of chemicals from neurotransmitters to proteins , and the linking of a particular compound with a phosphate. This process is very common in biochemistry and enables proteins, neurotransmitters and countless other chemicals to function within organic systems. To determine DAP’s fitness to facilitate the origins of life, the team checked DAP’s ability to phosphorylate with several crucial organic compounds. These included RNA, which is essential for the decoding and messaging of genetic information as well as protein synthesis, fatty acids, which make up cell membranes, and amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Related: Researchers shocked to discover protein that conducts electricity All of the tested organic chemicals, when mixed with water and an additional chemical thought to be found on early Earth, successfully reacted with the DAP. While scientists lack the ability to truly know what early Earth was like, or whether the origin of life involved DAP, these experiments show one feasible path through which life could have developed. Via Newsweek Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Scientists may have just found the chemical "missing link" for the origins of life on Earth

IBM creates first-ever artificial neurons that behave like the real thing

August 4, 2016 by  
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IBM researchers in Switzerland have created an artificial neuron that behaves just like the real thing . For the first time in history, artificial phase-change neurons have been grouped together (in a population of 500 synthesized in a lab) to process a neurological signal in more or less the same way that biological neurons transmit messages. They can be made exceptionally small and are similar in power and energy usage to biological neurons, and can even produce results with random variations, also just like biological neurons. For non-scientists, the importance of this discovery may not be immediately apparent. IBM ’s artificial neuron , developed by a research team in Zurich, is quite literally the next best thing to a naturally created biological neuron. The lab-created version has all the same components of a biological neuron, including inputs (dendrites), a neuronal membrane (lipid bilayer) around the spike generator (soma, nucleus), and an output (axon). Likewise, its functions mimic those of its biological counterpart. Related: Scientists create the world’s first enzymes using synthetic biology In addition to all that, the artificial neurons are durable, made from well-known materials that can withstand trillions of switching cycles. They are tiny (around 90 nanometers) and researchers believe they can make them even smaller, possibly as minuscule as 14nm. The researchers started by creating 500 artificial neurons together in a chain capable of sending signals, which means the IBM team has created the closest artificial version of a biological neuron. In the next phase of research, the team will create a much larger population of artificial neurons, with thousands of individual units, and write software to push their capabilities to the limit. The study results were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Via Ars Technica Images via IBM

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IBM creates first-ever artificial neurons that behave like the real thing

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