How Cells Got Their Membranes (Maybe) | SciShow News

Thanks to Brilliant for supporting this whole
week of SciShow! Go to to learn more. {♫Intro♫} For life to evolve on Earth, a bunch of complex organic molecules had to evolve a way to assemble into cells. That’s not as easy as it sounds. But this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of Washington think they’ve found a way for things to have come together. Basically, we know that before life emerged, there were limited ingredients to work with. Stuff like fatty acids, amino acids, salt, and magnesium. And from that limited recipe, somehow, cells came about. But there are some issues here. All cells are enclosed in membranes derived from fatty acids. But those fatty acid membranes aren’t very stable in the presence of charged particles — like sodium, chlorine, or magnesium ions. That pretty much describes the primordial soup that gave rise to the first cells. And what’s more, magnesium ions are required for nucleic acids– like RNA — to function. It’s crucial for life. So how did those proto-cells get cell membranes? There must have been some other molecule in the early oceans that could have kept those fatty acids stable enough to assemble into membranes. So the team turned to another class of molecules from their limited cast of characters: amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and scientists think there were 10 specific amino acids floating around those early oceans that led to the very first proteins. The scientists combined these amino acids
with a particular fatty acid they think would have been present before the first cells formed,
then analyzed the interactions between them. It turns out that all of these amino acids
had some kind of interaction with the fatty acid membranes. They found that water-repelling amino acids
like leucine bind easily to fatty acids, while more water-loving ones like serine and glycine
protect membranes from the harmful effects of magnesium ions. This was similar to previous research the
team had done finding that RNA bases also bind to and stabilize fatty acid membranes. As a result, the researchers proposed a new model for the
formation of the first cells: amino acids and RNA bound to fatty acids and
stabilized them, which helped them form membranes and led to higher concentrations of amino
acids and RNA, which led to more binding. This potentially explains how cell membranes
formed in such an inhospitable environment. But it can also answer another question: why
fatty acids, proteins, and RNA started hanging out together in the first place, before life
was a thing. You can’t have stable proto-cell membranes
without amino acids and RNA bases, they say. Which means all the ingredients for life actually…
kinda needed each other, before they were ingredients for life. The researchers say their next step is to
figure out how these building blocks teamed up to create functional cellular machinery. The murky history of life on Earth is getting
clearer by the day. There’s also some news about ionic interactions
here in the present day, and it connects two fields you wouldn’t usually think of as
going together. are high-capacity energy storage devices that
can release a large amount of energy relatively quickly. They’re often used in wind turbines to smooth
out the intermittent power supplied by the wind, as well as in the regenerative braking
systems of hybrid vehicles. They store the energy that would otherwise
be wasted during braking to help the car get going again. They’re a little bit like batteries, except
batteries can store more energy over longer periods of time than supercapacitors, whereas
supercapacitors can release energy more quickly than batteries. This week, scientists published a paper in
the journal Nature Materials showing a way to improve supercapacitors with a class of
chemical that’s similar to — wait for it — laxatives. A supercapacitor is made up of two conductors,
or plates, of opposite charge soaked in a liquid called an electrolyte and separated
by a thin insulator. An electrolyte is a liquid that contains ions,
which are particles that carry a positive or negative charge. That makes it a good conductor of electricity. The electrolyte contains a uniform mix of
positively and negatively charged ions. When the plates are charged, each one attracts
ions of the opposite charge, which in turn attract ions of /their/ opposite charge. That forms a double layer on each plate, and
the charge separation stores a bunch of potential energy that the supercapacitor can discharge. Right now, supercapacitors mostly use electrolytes
that are either water-based or carbon-based, but both have their drawbacks. So lately, researchers have been tinkering
with electrolytes made of ionic liquids — a liquid made of positively and negatively charged
components, a little bit like if table salt were liquid at room temperature. In any electrolyte, the ions kind of go wherever
they feel an attraction. But these researchers came up with a tweak
that could make ionic liquids more predictable. That’s where the laxatives come in. The researchers in this new study designed
a new ionic compound that’s amphiphilic, which means their molecules have one end that’s
polar, or slightly electrically charged, and one end that’s nonpolar. And while ionic liquids are not very familiar
materials, researchers in the past have taken inspiration from cheap, widely available laxative
compounds. In those, the water-loving polar end and the
lipid-friendly non-polar end work together to lower the surface tension and help poop
retain more water, which makes it softer and easier to pass. But in supercapacitors, these amphiphilic
molecules arrange themselves in a double layer on each plate automatically. The result is a more ordered lineup of ions,
which makes for a more efficient energy storage device. The researchers say that this means there’s
the potential to design specific ionic liquids for specific purposes. Not only could this lead the way to improved
supercapacitors in hybrid cars, but it could also come in handy in areas as lofty as space
exploration. Which is not bad for a principle that also
makes your… movements a little more comfortable. [Outro:]
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100 thoughts on “How Cells Got Their Membranes (Maybe) | SciShow News”

  1. SciShow is supported by Go to to get 20% off of an annual Premium subscription.

  2. I didn't know wind turbans have capacitors in them. I also didn't know turbans create power. I thought it was just a towel that people of the middle east wear as a symbol of devotion toward their holy creator.

  3. What about anti bubbles. Physics girl was able to made some and I thought it could be a pseudo membrane for early life

  4. @SciShow so if I'm understanding correctly, if you introduce a laxative to a capacitor, it squirts out ions with little resistance. This scans.

  5. Have you heard of the white smoker ocean vent theory for the origin of life? It's worth a look if you're interested in this topic.

  6. I like how you're no longer mentioning the initials of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [for those of you who don't know, it's PNAS]

  7. My question: is it possible to literally hold still? What would you see if you flew into space and then stopped… relative to all stellar bodies, anyway?

  8. If you watch the video without the sound on and blur your vision. You realize how much humans use there hands to communicate and they seem to have a lot to say

  9. Robot life required the coming together of electronic components, sheet metal, plastics, and screwdrivers. Next step for scientists is to determine how all these components came to be.

  10. Second part kind of makes sense.
    Supercapacitor discharges a large amount of energy quickly
    Laxatives discharges a large quantity of feces quickly.

  11. So life came from literally nowhere on this planet? I have hard time believing this considering how old this universe is compared to Earth. Life must have come from somewhere not magically appearing one day out of thin air. It most certainly came from another solar system hitchhiking on a meteor or asteroid. If anything it doesn't take much for things to get started assuming the ingredients are there, which they obviously were. Life flourished and here we are.

  12. Around 2012, they discovered amoebas living communally. Formerly solitary unicellular organisms getting together to form a tissue, of sorts.

  13. "The murky history of life on Earth is getting clearer by the day." Anyone else felt goosebumps of excitement?

  14. doesnt that really seem like intelligent design? like they needed each other before they became life? that seems like it could have been designed that way, right? its weird i can see each argument, if it was chance we couldnt know but everything went so right for billions of years to lead to us now, idk, seems like they way the universe works is smart.

  15. As odd as it may sound, I am actually not surprised about the laxative liquid helping make more efficient capacitors as one laxative called polyethylene glycal actually seems to have mild nerve healing abilities, and I've heard of scientists trying to regrow lost limbs by stimulating growth by applying an electrical charge to the heal site in addition to the usual growth concoction of medical compounds..

  16. Wait for it! [*and don't read the placard to my right, which clearly says, "Laxatives!"*] …huh? 𝓡𝓲𝓴𝓴𝓲 𝓣𝓲𝓴𝓴𝓲.

  17. That's like saying that the cell existed first with no membrane, which is absolutely absurd…. Which is like saying which came first the male or female? Unless they were created (evolved) at exactly the same exact time, neither could exist without the other.

    The Bible does a 1000X better job than science does at explaining how humans came into being.

  18. I’m curious if one were to place fatty acids, amino acids, nuclei acid, and magnesium salts in an area and waited, could we potentially create a second lineage of life?

  19. You can ignore truth all you want, You can ignore the people who try to get you to wake up to realizing the truth and make up all sorts of fantasies and rationalize and deceive yourself all you want, tell yourself lie after lie in a futile attempt to avoid the harshness of the truth.
    There is one thing you will never be able to ignore or lie yourself out of: The consequences that will come from ignoring the truth.
    Life and our very existence, as in all sentient conscious being and all life itself is not the result of random chance.
    If you want to truly find the reason you exist then keep sincerely looking and asking and don't let yourself be deceived.

  20. A woman I saw in a WalMart checkout line had enough fatty acid to seed several hundred planets with cell membranes.

  21. Check out these videos. Origin: Probability of a Single Protein Forming by Chance
    Jame Tour origins of life 2019

  22. In other words, you are using the mechanism of a cell's bilipid layer to form such a membrane in supercapacitors.

  23. If the script is going to be all "wait for it; you'll never guess! Didn't expect that one, hu?" You really shouldn't put the punchline in text right in the beginning.

  24. I like to imagine that the first life forms were basically just tiny bubbles, with their genetic code woven into a cell membrane.

  25. This is so wrong. Elecrtrolytes do not conduct electricity, if they did then capacitive plates would be shorted together. Batteries convert chemical energy to electrical energy, capacitors store electrical energy.

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