How Did Life Begin?

In bubbles? On comets? Along ocean vents? Scientists find some surprising answers to the greatest mystery on earth.

The molecule was not alive, at least not in any conventional sense. Yet its behavior was astonishingly lifelike. When it appeared last April at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, scientists thought it had spoiled their experiment. But this snippet of synthetic rna -- one of the master molecules in the nuclei of all cells -- proved unusually talented. Within an hour of its formation, it had commandeered the organic material in a thimble-size test tube and started to make copies of itself. Then the copies made copies. Before long, the copies began to evolve, developing the ability to...

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