Life on Earth emerged about 4 billion years ago, when the first cells formed in the main soup of carbon-rich complex compounds. These cells are confronted with a chemical puzzle. You need special soup ions to fulfill basic functions. However, this charged ion will destroy the simple membrane that encapsulates the cell.
A research team solves this puzzle by using only molecules that exist on ancient Earth. It uses liquid-filled cells surrounded by a membrane of fatty acid molecules
The team found that the building blocks of amino acids from proteins can stabilize the membrane against magnesium ions. Their results form the basis for the first cells to encode their genetic information into RNA molecules connected with DNA, which need magnesium to produce it while maintaining membrane stability.
This also explains how amino acids can stabilize membranes in unfavorable environments. They also show how the individual building blocks of cell structure, membrane proteins and RNA can be localized in aqueous media from ancient Earth.
Cells consist of many different types of structures with completely different types of building blocks, and it is never clear why they can be functionally combined.
Black came to UW after his career at Amgen to fill in the missing details in the most important ways.
Black was inspired by the observation that fatty acid molecules can self-assemble into membranes and suggested that this membrane could function as a comfortable surface for the collection of RNA and protein elements.
You can imagine the various types of molecules moving in the primary soup, such as fuzzy tennis balls and hard pumpkin balls jumping around in large vibrating boxes.
When you coat an area in a Velcro box, only tennis balls are left in that area and the two are close together. Roy has the idea that the concentration of local molecules can be increased by the same mechanism.
Previously, the team showed that the building blocks of RNA were specifically bound to fatty acid membranes and surprisingly also stabilized fragile membranes against the adverse effects of salt, common compounds on earth in the past and present.
Further Reading UW edu