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Protocells formed in salt solution - closer to synthetic life than anyone

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The first cell may have originated in a salty soup in which large biomolecules cluster spontaneously to form a protocell, chemists at Radboud University Nijmegen discovered. PNAS published their work on July 1.

How did the first cell originate in evolution? It is a chicken or the egg causality dilemma: a cell doesn’t function without a cell wall, but how does the cell wall form if there is no cell? Research by chemist Wilhelm Huck, professor at Radboud University Nijmegen, suggests that the cell came first.

In a solution containing the biomolecules that are normally locked in a cell (like DNA, RNA, enzymes, proteins) these large biomolecules clustered together spontaneously when the salt concentration was increased. This indicates that a cell wall is not a prerequisite for a cell-like structure.

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