NASA-funded researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are tapping information found in the cells of all life on Earth, and using it to trace life's evolution. They have learned that life is a master stenographer - writing, rewriting and recording its history in elaborate biological structures.
Some of the keys to unlocking the origin of life lie encrypted in the ribosome, life's oldest and most universal assembly of molecules. Today's ribosome converts genetic information (RNA) into proteins that carry out various functions in an organism. But the ribosome itself has changed over time. Its history shows how simple molecules joined forces to invent biology, and its current structure records ancient biological processes that occurred at the root of the Tree of Life, some 3.8 billion years ago.
By examining variations in the ribosomal RNA contained in modern cells, scientists can visualize the timeline of life far back in history, elucidating molecular structures, reactions and events near the biochemical origins of life.