British scientists said on Wednesday that they had figured out key steps in the process by which life on Earth may have emerged from a seething soup of simple chemicals, according to Agence France-Presse.
Genetic information in living organisms today is held in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the famous "double helix" molecule of sugar, phosphate and a base.
But DNA is too sophisticated to have popped up in an instant, and one avenue of thought says its single-stranded cousin, ribonucleic acid, or RNA, came first.
RNA plays a key role in making proteins and, in viruses, is used to store genetic code.
It is chemically similar to DNA but is simpler and tougher in structure, and thus looks like a good candidate for Earth's first information-coding nucleic acid.
But for all its allure, the "RNA first" theory has run into practical problems.
Now a paper published in the British journal Nature by University of Manchester chemists, led by Professor John Sutherland, ventures that an RNA-like synthesis took place through a series of chemical reactions and an important intermediate substance.