Did life originally spring from clay?

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Researchers find a role for clay in formation of the first cells

While the research is a far cry from proving that humans sprang from clay, as some creation myths assert, it does provide a possible mechanism for explaining how life initially arose from nonliving molecules. Researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital showed that the presence of clay aids naturally occurring reactions that result in the formation of fatty sacks called vesicles, similar to what scientists expect the first living cells to have looked like. Further, the clay helps RNA form. The RNA can stick to the clay and move with it into the vesicles. This provides a method for RNA’s critical genetic information to move inside a primitive cell. Harvard Medical School Professor of Genetics Jack Szostak said he and colleagues Martin Hanczyc and Shelly Fujikawa aren’t suggesting they’ve hit on the exact method by which life initially arose. Still, he said, there are exciting parallels. “It’s exciting because we know that a particular clay mineral helps with the assembly of RNA,” Szostak said. “There certainly would have been lots of environments on early Earth with clay minerals. It’s something that forms relatively easily as rocks weather.”