WSU scientists research building blocks of ancient genetics

A team of scientists has discovered the possible building blocks of ancient genetics that might have been the first genetic molecules for life on earth. The scientists from Jackson, Wyo., and Stockholm University worked together to find what early forms of life were composed of before the evolution of RNA.

Two of the researchers, adjunct instructors at Weber State University, were compiling information when they learned of a similar discovery by colleagues from Stockholm, so both teams contributed to the research and worked together to publish the study. Sandra Anne Banack, James S. Metcalf, Liying Jiang, Derek Craighead, Leopold L. Ilag and Paul Alan Cox are the authors of the study.

More than 3.5 billion years ago, before the evolution of DNA-based organisms, RNA was believed to be the primary molecule responsible for creating genetic life. Before RNA, peptide nucleic acids were possibly used to transmit the genetic information by the earliest life forms on earth.

The study suggests that a small molecule, aminoethyl glycine, might be the answer. In the past, several major pharmaceutical companies have studied synthetic AEG as a way to stop or slowly target genetic diseases. Until now, AEG has not been found in nature. Scientists have used AEG as a backbone to peptide nucleic acids to form synthesized molecules akin to DNA.

“There have been so many scientific discoveries in the past year,” said Shellie Callerson, a retired Davis County history teacher. “These types of breakthroughs are what will shape our future. It’s true that we can’t build a future until we fully understand our past.”

The team discovered that AEG can be found occurring naturally in cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are blue-green bacteria or algae that gains energy the same way as plants through photosynthesis. This type of algae/bacteria can be found in most terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, oceans, lakes and hot springs, and can also be found in rocks and soil.

The researchers’ results showed that cyanobacteria naturally produce AEG on their own. The study suggests that the production of the AEG by cyanobacteria could possibly be a look at what created the earliest form of genetic life on earth.

“Science is my weak spot, but someone has to learn everything,” said Sergio Benson, a WSU junior. “Otherwise, we won’t learn about where we came from. It’s important for research to continue into things that we think we already know. We might only know a little bit of what is out there.”

The entire article, “Cyanobacteria Produce N-(2-Aminoethyl) Glycine,” is available at

“It’s so good to hear about instructors from here at Weber State who are making breakthroughs in science,” said Malorie McKnight, a WSU secondary education freshman. “It shows the rest of the world that Weber State has some awesome instructors and that we are learning from the best. I’m proud to be at a school that offers such amazing instructors.”