Before life started on Earth, the setting likely contained a huge number of chemical compounds that reacted with one another more or less randomly, and it is unclear how the complexity of cells could have emerged from such chemical disorder. Now, a group led by Tony Z. Jia at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and Kuhan Chandru of the National University of Malaysia has proven that simple α-hydroxy acids, like glycolic and lactic acid, directly polymerize and self-gather into polyester microdroplets when drained at average temperatures followed by rehydration. This could be what occurred along primitive seashores and river banks, or in drying ruts. These shape a new type of cell-like chamber that can trap and target biomolecules like nucleic acids and proteins. These droplets, unlike most recent cells, can unite and reform quickly, and thus may have received versatile early genetic and metabolic programs potentially crucial for the sources of life.
All life on Earth is made from cells. Cells are made of lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids, with the fat shaping the cell membrane, an enclosure that retains the other parts collectively and interfaces with the atmosphere, exchanging food and waste. How molecular assemblages as complicated as cells shaped initially remains a mystery.
Most foundations of life research focus on how the environment made the molecules and structures of life, and then gathered into structures that led to the first cells. Nonetheless, there have been likely many different types of particles that developed alongside biomolecules on early Earth, and it’s possible that life started utilizing quite simple chemistry independent to modern biomolecules, then developed via increasingly complicated stages to give a boost to the structures present in modern cells.