Biophysical Journal
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DNA and the origins of life in micaceous clay

Publication Date Sep 1, 2022

Abstract

Reproducible imaging of DNA by atomic force microscopy was a useful predecessor to Ned Seeman's DNA nanotechnology. Many of the products of DNA nanotechnology were imaged in the atomic force microscope. The mica substrate used in this atomic force microscopy research formed the inspiration for the hypothesis that micaceous clay was a likely habitat for the origins of life. Montmorillonite clay has been a successful substrate for the polymerization of amino acids and nucleotides into peptides and DNA oligomers in research on life's origins. Mica and montmorillonite have the same anionic lattice, with a hexagonal spacing of 0.5nm. Micas are nonswelling clays, with potassium ions (K+) holding the crystal sheets together, providing a stable environment for the processes and molecular complexes needed for the emergence of living cells. Montmorillonite crystal sheets are held together by smaller sodium ions (Na+), which results in swelling and shrinking during wet-dry cycles, providing a less stable environment. Also, the cells in all types of living systems have high intracellular K+ concentrations, which makes mica a more likely habitat for the origins of life than montmorillonite. Finally, moving mica sheets provides mechanical energy at the split edges of the sheets in mica "books." This mechanical energy of mica sheets, moving open and shut, in response to fluid flow, may have preceded chemical energy at life's origins, powering early prebiotic processes, such as the formation of covalent bonds, the interactions of molecular ...

Concepts

Micaceous Clay Life's Origins Formation Of Covalent Bonds Nonswelling Clays Crystal Sheets Budding Off Mica Sheets Anionic Lattice Wet-dry Cycles DNA Nanotechnology

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No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors. The conception and design of the study, acquisition of data, analysis and interpretatio...

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