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The Amino Acids of Life

April 26, 2017

How did the proteins forming life on earth come to be formed from just twenty of the the many possible amino acids available?

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Alien evolution. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

DNA churns out the instructions to make amino acids, which form all of the proteins that make living things. But there are 500 known amino acids, and DNA uses just twenty of them. Why?

LAURA ROWE (Valparaiso University):

So one hypothesis is that’s all that was around when life first evolved in the primordial goo.

That’s Valparaiso University bioanalytical chemist Laura Rowe.

ROWE:

And another hypothesis is that the conditions on our planet, the twenty amino acids that living organisms are made of, that’s just optimized life on our planetary conditions. Rowe’s student, Claire Mamoser, is studying how other amino acids would behave on other worlds, like the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. At the Experimental Biology 2017 conference, she’s discussing how the work could shed light on how life on earth began, and how that process could play out differently on alien worlds. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon