An Oklahoma State University researcher is one of only a few in the world to reconstruct the building blocks of the oldest known organism. Some are calling his research the possible origin of life.
The research was done by Dr. Wouter Hoff, a university micro biologist and molecular geneticist along with his research partner Dr. Peter T.S. van der Gulik. The pair used research from 79 different scientific papers to reconstruct the genetic code of the Last Universal Common Ancestor or LUCA.
LUCA was discovered in July of 2016. It’s a single celled organism estimated to have been alive nearly four-billion-years-ago when the earth was just more than 500 million years old. But it wasn’t until the discovery of DNA in 1968 that researchers were able to extrapolate backwards in time with the precision Hoff used.
“We know the genetic code. What we don't know is where it came from, so how it evolved.”
Hoff didn't actually look at any ancient DNA instead he looked at stacks of research from scientists across the globe to put the pieces of the LUCA puzzle together. He said it’s genetic makeup looks very similar to ancient Archaea, one of the two oldest kingdoms of life along with Bacteria.
“LUCA is already a sophisticated cell which was almost modern, not quite modern, but almost modern tRNA set,” Hoff said referring to the genes that made up the organism.
The discovery of LUCA has divided the scientific community. According to the German scientist William F. Martin, who also researched LUCA, the genetic make-up of LUCA, roughly 355 ascribable genes, points to life on earth beginning deep in the ocean at superheated ocean floor vents.
Others say the genetic strain is too complex and still think life started in Charles Darwin's "little warm pond" theory with much a simpler genetic structure. Hoff said he's somewhere in between.
“If you know the properties of LUCA you don't know the origin of life yet because there must because there must be many steps before LUCA,” he said.