Technische Universität München

Phase separation: A simple mechanism could have been decisive for the development of life


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In the beginning was the phase separation

A simple mechanism could have been decisive for the development of life

The question of the origin of life remains one of the oldest unanswered scientific questions. A team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has now shown for the first time that phase separation is an extremely efficient way of controlling the selection of chemical building blocks and providing advantages to certain molecules.

Life needs energy. Without energy, cells cannot move or divide, not even basic functions such as the production of simple proteins could be maintained. If energy is lacking, more complex connections disintegrate quickly, early life would die immediately.

Chemist Job Boekhoven and his team at TUM have now succeeded in using phase separation to find a mechanism in simple molecules that enables extremely unstable molecules such as those found in the primordial soup to have a higher degree of stability. They could survive longer, even if they had to survive a period without external energy supply.

The principle of simplicity

Job Boekhoven and his team were looking for a simple mechanism with primitive molecules that could produce life-like properties. "Most like