Science

The Real Adam, the Ancestor of All Life, is a Thing Whose Name is LUCA

By | Jul 28, 2016 03:56 AM EDT
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We began here

The real Garden of Eden: underwater hydrothermal vents.(Photo : NOAA)

The grand daddy of all life on Earth was a single-celled organism given the name LUCA and evolutionary biologists have mapped the genome of this extremophile for the first time.

LUCA, an acronym for the "Last Universal Common Ancestor," lived four billion years ago, and likely sprang to life deep underwater near hydrothermal vents spewing lava and toxic chemicals.

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A new study published in the journal Nature Microbiology shed more light into where and how this ancestor of all living things might have lived. It argues LUCA's genes are those of an extremophile organism that probably lived in an area around hydrothermal vents, which are fissures on the Earth's surface from which geothermally heated water issues. Hydrothermal vents are commonly found near volcanically active places.

Led by William Martin of Heinrich Heine University in Germany, a team of evolutionary biologists developed a genetic profile of Luca that eventually identified 355 genes likely originating in LUCA. They found a gene that codes for an enzyme called reverse gyrase only found in extremophile microbes.

Martin said he was "flabbergasted at the result and couldn't believe it. Because of this, Martin contends LUCA might not just be the common ancestor, but one of the very first living organisms.

The discovery also suggests LUCA metabolized hydrogen gas for energy. This also confirms it was likely this organism that lived close to super-heated volcanic vents producing hydrogen gas. LUCA's lifestyle is similar to two other types of microbes: anaerobic bacteria in the genus clostridium and the hydrogen hungry archaea in the methanogens group.

This discovery seems to provide a definitive answer as to how life arose from nonliving organic materials. Other scientists champion the theory life began in a primordial soup of warm water and basic chemicals, while others claim life might have originated in clay.

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