Just what this first metabolic reaction might have looked like remains an area of speculation. It had to have been simple enough to emerge from the assorted components likely to be present already, yet still efficient enough to serve as a catalyst for changes in its environment.
Now a team of researchers from Rutgers University and The City College of New York in the US have identified a protein that may have played a crucial role in getting life as we know it started – a simple peptide they're calling nickelback.
This isn't a tribute to the well-known Canadian rock band, but rather a reference to the protein's backbone, consisting of a chain of amino acids and two nitrogen atoms bonded to a pair of nickel atoms.
Scientists Identify Chemical Reaction That May Have Triggered Life on Earth
There was a critical point early in Earth's history when chemical reactions among the mix of organic molecules began to be powered from within, forming something we might start to think of as biological.