How did life begin? One key ingredient is coming into view

Amber Dance in Nature:

Billions of years ago, before there were beasts, bacteria or any living organism, there were RNAs. These molecules were probably swirling around with amino acids and other rudimentary biomolecules, merging and diverging, on an otherwise lifeless crucible of a planet.

Then, somehow, something special emerged: a simple machine, a pocket made of RNAs, with the ability to place amino acids next to one another and maybe link them into chains. This was the macromolecule that would gradually evolve into the ribosome, the RNA–protein complex responsible for translating genetic information into proteins. Its birth — the details of which remain hypothetical — would have created a fundamental shift in this prebiotic, RNA-dominated world, providing a key ingredient to all life as we know it. Ada Yonath, a structural biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and her team first conceptualized this ‘protoribosome’ idea nearly two decades ago, after she and others determined the structure of the modern ribosome, a feat that later secured Yonath a share of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

But to solidify the case for the hypothetical protoribosome, Yonath and her laboratory would have to build it.

More here.