The discovery of 26-year-old Furkan Öztürk, who is about to complete his doctoral studies at Harvard University’s Department of Physics, uncovered one of the mysteries about how life began 4 billion years ago, created great excitement in the scientific world.

While the work of the young Turkish physicist has started to be announced as a “breakthrough discovery” in prestigious academic publications, the discovery is expected to shed light on many mysteries, from how life began on Earth to life in space.

The French chemist Louis Pasteur introduced the concept of “homocrality” in 1848, regarding the existence of certain molecules necessary for life in “mirror image forms” of each other, just as in the left and right hands, but the origin of this feature was not understood despite the studies carried out for 175 years.

With the discovery, lead author Öztürk and his team, whose articles were published in the journal Science Advances, were able to crystallize RNA precursor molecules on magnetic minerals to obtain the building blocks of RNA only in a right or left spiral helix.

Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Jack Szostak described the work of Öztürk and his team, saying, “This is truly a groundbreaking discovery. Homochirality is essential for life to begin with, and this new discovery offers a very logical solution to this problem.” interpreted as.

It is focused on the possibility that one of the 125 questions that still need to be answered in the field of natural sciences may have been answered with the experiments of the young Turkish scientist on the origin of life.

It is one of the biggest mysteries that science seeks answers to.

Furkan Öztürk, a graduate of Bilkent Faculty of Science, Department of Physics and coming to the completion of his doctoral program at Harvard University, answered the questions.

Explaining that he worked on a different subject in the first two years of his doctorate, but later changed his doctoral subject and advisor, Öztürk said that he has been working on the beginning of life for about 2.5 years.

Pointing out that how life emerged on Earth and how the first living cells were formed are among the biggest mysteries that science seeks to answer, Öztürk said, “About 4 billion years ago, roughly 500 million years after the Solar system and our Earth were formed, we began to see the first traces of life on Earth. Let’s begin. So, how did life originate, what chemical and physical processes might have triggered life? In my doctoral study, I did experimental studies that could clarify these questions.” he said.

Turkish physicist Furkan Öztürk, the first author of a series of articles announced with the title “breakthrough discovery” in an article published in Science, one of the most prestigious science journals, said, “My research is about an important but obscure problem about the origin of life. The name of this problem is homochirality, that is, the molecules that make up life. Right- or left-handedness is a feature of life as we know it.” said.

Pointing out that homochirality is a major problem in the origin of life research, Öztürk said that in an issue published in 2005 by Science magazine, he listed this problem among the 125 biggest problems of natural sciences.

Magnetic surfaces played a role in the origin of life

Öztürk stated that with their experiments they have shown what the physical interaction that leads to homochirality can be, and continued as follows:

“What we were looking for was a physical interaction that could break the chiral symmetry, that is, the mirror symmetry. Our studies have revealed that the magnetic minerals found in abundance in nature, in a sense, stones with natural magnet properties, can cause this symmetry to be broken. Our experiments have shown that magnetic surfaces are very complex with chiral molecules. “The ‘origin of life’ problem is like a puzzle, and our results are a serious step towards solving an important part of this great puzzle. We have opened a breach in the wall, and I believe it will continue.”

This information will shed light on those who are looking for life outside the world.

Öztürk said that his discovery was included in the publications of journals such as Science and Nature and caused great excitement:

“With this discovery, we shed light on a very important mystery about the origin of life. “There is no direct evidence. We have actually replaced a very large piece of the origin of life with our work. We do not yet know what other information will be shaped around it. But I am sure this discovery will allow us to answer other questions and provide interesting clues about the origin of life. Perhaps It will provide information about possible life forms on other planets. So if we fully understand how life formed on Earth, then we will have more information about the conditions under which life can emerge. This information may guide us in the search for life outside Earth. Understanding life on Earth could also help us discover another life form outside of Earth. It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s possible.”

“My dream is to create proto-cells in the lab”

Asked what kind of doors his invention will open in the future in the scientific world, Öztürk said, “Obviously, I think this discovery will bring us to the stage where we can create life in a laboratory environment. My goal is to recreate the conditions at the beginning of life in the laboratory environment and to see with my own eyes how life is formed.” said.

Expressing that he aims to create “proto-cells”, the most basic structures that show the basic features of life and that we can call living, Öztürk said:

“I’m talking about the formation of progenitor cells showing vitality from things that show no sign of being alive, such as minerals, carbon-based molecules. I mean, something that shows the basic features of life. It can replicate itself and show metabolic activity. It is in contact with its environment, maybe “I’m talking about proto-cells, protocells, that are isolated in a cell membrane, have an RNA-based genetic code and can display simple metabolic activities. My dream is to create them.”

The biggest mystery after DNA solved?

Asked “Is yours the greatest discovery of life after the discovery of DNA?” Öztürk said, “I cannot say this. Scientists will appreciate it. It is too early to say such things. But this issue was thought to be one of the biggest problems in the beginning of life research. I can safely say that.” used the phrase.

“It’s good that I lived to the age of 93 and saw the solution to this problem”

Furkan Öztürk said that academicians from Harvard and many universities called him and congratulated him.

Öztürk said that a speech he gave at Harvard was followed by the famous 93-year-old molecular biologist Matthew Meselson, who is now included in biology books in Turkey and who discovered how DNA is copied, and said, “I’m glad I lived until the age of 93. Finally, this problem was solved. I’ve seen the solution.” He said he made a comment.

Expressing that his works will continue, Öztürk said:

“Other scientists we work with and I believe we have solved this problem. This is very exciting but not enough. These experiments need to be tested independently by other researchers as well. They need to be evaluated again and again in the light of new data. Great scientific discoveries create excitement in the first place. But discoveries have to pass the test of time for them to be established. As honest scientists, we have a duty to work meticulously and test a lot. I believe that we will pass these stages as well.”

“The curtain covering one of nature’s greatest mysteries was lifted thanks to Furkan’s genius”

Bilkent University Faculty of Science Dean, Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA) Member Prof. Dr. Tayfun Özçelik made the following assessment in his statement regarding the discovery of Furkan Öztürk:

“As Bilkent Faculty of Science, we are very proud. Our graduate Furkan Öztürk has achieved a unique success by explaining one of the most fundamental questions of the field of natural sciences, how life began at the molecular level. The most respected scientific circles now applaud Furkan. The transformation of inorganic molecules into organic molecules. “We now understand the process of RNA and then the beginning of biology. We understand the first formation process of RNA and then DNA molecules billions of years ago. The veil covering one of nature’s greatest mysteries was opened thanks to Furkan’s genius.”

Bilkent University Faculty Member Assoc. Dr. Seymur Jahangirov pointed out that Öztürk’s work clarified why only one type of molecule was used in the formation process of living things.

“The proposed mechanism has both theoretical and experimental underpinnings.” Says Jahangirov, “In addition, this study was carried out by combining the new information obtained in recent years in many different disciplines such as physics, chemistry, biology and geology, and it was met with great enthusiasm by the leading scientists. One of them is that he is not limited to his main subject, physics, but is interested in many different fields such as archeology, organic chemistry, history, music and constantly improving himself. used the phrase.

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