One of the biggest issues surrounding the debate between the theory that humans and all other animals descended from a common ancestor and the belief that we all were created out of thin air by a omnipotent being is how life began in the first place. Science has shown through the fossil record and laboratory tests that the evolutionary tree is a pretty solid piece of scientific theory. However, they still don’t have an answer for how the first chemicals came together to form a working strand of molecular life.
Some years ago, researchers discovered that RNA molecules – the bits of genetic material actually responsible for the construction of proteins, the indispensible enzymes that ignite the processes of life – can serve as a catalytic ignition flame as well. This gave rise to the idea that perhaps RNA was the first piece of life ever formed, not the genetic backbone DNA that we’re all familiar with today.
I’m sure you’re in need of a quick biology refresher after that sentence, because I know I sure as hell am.
DNA contains all of the information required for encoding the amino acids that make up proteins. However, it can’t very well jump out of its double helix spindle and build them itself. Instead, it first transcribes the information to messenger RNA (mRNA), which actually goes out and builds the proteins. But to do this, it utilizes tRNA, which grabs bits of amino acids on one end while receiving instructions from the mRNA on the other.
Now, RNase P help with the in-between. By cutting off extra sequences of tRNA. This is a necessary step for the tRNA to be able to receive information and carry out its duties correctly.
So what the scientists managed to basically take a picture of is one of the fundamental processes in the entirety of life as we know it. By recognizing and snipping off bits from tRNA, RNase P allows it to build receive its instructions properly and construct the building blocks of life. Over the past few decades, research has shown that RNA is capable of performing the duties of both DNA and proteins, neither of which could have evolved without the other. This has spawned the idea that RNA was in fact the origin of life, a theory that the details of this most-basic of functions gives more credence to.
If you’d like more information about the theory of the origin of life, I highly suggest reading a post by Ed Yong, one of the best science writers out there. While reading the post, click on some of the links he has provided, which will help give a bigger picture of the puzzle.