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For 25 years, Miller had kept it as cold as Jupiter’s icy moon Europa”too cold, most scientists had assumed, for anything to have happened. What Levy found was that seven different amino acids and 11 types of nucleobases had formed.
“What was remarkable,” Bada says, “is that the yield in these frozen experiments was better, for some compounds, than it was with room-temperature experiments.”
A young scientist named Alexander Vlassov may have accidentally found the answer of how tiny snippets of RNA became longer, well-crafted chains that could have acted as the very first enzymes. Vlassov was working at SomaGenics, a biotech company in Santa Cruz, California, to develop RNA enzymes that latch on to the hepatitis C virus. But his RNA enzymes weren’t behaving. They normally consisted of a single segment of RNA, but every time he cooled them below freezing to purify them, the chain of RNA spontaneously joined its ends into a circle, like a snake biting its own tail. As Vlassov attempted to correct the “glitch”, he noticed that another RNA enzyme, called hairpin, was also acting up. At room temperature, hairpin acts like scissors, snipping other RNA molecules into pieces. But when Vlassov froze it, it ran in reverse: It glued other RNA chains together end to end.