How Did Life Begin? Key Alzheimer's Protein Has Surprising Tie to the Primordial Soup

Life may have begun in a warm puddle. Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Amyloids are a type protein notoriously known for their association with Alzheimer's disease. Now it appears they may have played a role in the formation of life on Earth. A new study showing that amyloids are able to self-replicate, and thus could have quite possibly been life's original building blocks.

The ability to self-replicate is an essential trait for early life forms—a lone molecule could not have generated more molecules without that skill—so this finding is extremely important in the scientific community, reported. And the study, published in Nature Communications, proved that amyloid protein structures can do just that.

are capable of abiogenesis, or replicating themselves.

In an experiment, researchers from the Laboratory of Physical Chemistry in Switzerland showed that amyloids can create short peptides, a chain or two or more amino acids. Two years earlier, the same group showed that amyloids can form spontaneously. The combination of these two findings suggest that amyloids may be the right candidate for the origin of life

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One of the most popular theories on the origin of life is known as the "primordial soup theory." This hypothesis suggests that between 3.8 billion to 3.55 billion year ago, life began in a body of water—say, a pond or an ocean. In this warm body of water, chemicals in the atmosphere combined with some form of energy, perhaps electricity, ultraviolet light, heat or shock. The combination could have created amino acids, which eventually would have evolved to form every species of life on earth.

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This newly identified characteristic of amyloids suggest that the protein may fit into the primordial soup theory, the researchers explain.

Amyloid proteins are found in many living organisms, are known for their ability to stick together and cause plaques in the brain. These brain plaques are found in Alzheimer's disease patients, although at the moment, its not clear if the plaques cause the disease or are result of the disease.

This study does not prove that amyloids were the starting point for life, it does add an interesting component to the mystery.

"We will never be able to prove which [theory of the origins of life] is true—to do so, we would have to turn back the last 4 to 4.5 billion years of evolution," said study co-author Roland Riek of the Laboratory of Physical Chemistry in Switzerland, in a statement. "However, we suspect that it was not one, but multiple molecular processes with various predecessor molecules that were involved in the creation of life."