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One of the most challenging questions in basic biology and the history of evolution and life stems from the unknown origin of the first cells billions of years ago. Though many pieces of the puzzle have been put together, this origin story remains somewhat murky. But a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge believe they've accidentally stumbled on an answer, and a very compelling one at that.

The discovery: Through routine quality control testing, a researcher working with Markus Ralser, who would eventually become the lead researcher for the project, stumbled upon signs of the metabolic process where, for all intents and purposes, there shouldn't have been. Until now, much of the science community has generally agreed that Ribonucleic acid, or RNA, was the first building block of life because it produces enzymes that could catalyze complex sequences of reactions such as metabolic action. However, Ralser's lab found the end products of the metabolic process without any presence of RNA. Instead, the findings indicate that complex and life-forming reactions like these could occur spontaneously given the right, but surprisingly simple, conditions.

"People have said that these pathways look so complex they couldn't form by environmental chemistry alone," Rasler told NewScientist. "This is the first experiment showing that it is possible to create metabolic networks in the absence of RNA."

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