An obscure compound known as pyrophosphite could have been a source of energy that allowed the first life on Earth to form, scientists now say.
From the tiniest bacteria to the complex human body, all living beings require an energy-transporting molecule called ATP to survive. Often likened to a "rechargeable battery," ATP stores chemical energy in a form that can be used by organic matter.
"You need enzymes to make ATP, and you need ATP to make enzymes," said researcher Terence Kee of the University of Leeds in England. "The question is: Where did energy come from before either of these two things existed? We think that the answer may lie in simple molecules, such as pyrophosphate, which is chemically very similar to ATP, but has the potential to transfer energy without enzymes."
Prior theories for how life emerged from mere chemistry have considered that a similar but separate compound known as pyrophosphate was the predecessor to the more complex yet more efficient ATP.