The origin of how life began on Earth has plagued the curiosity of mankind since the dawn of the human race. It’s something that has perplexed scientists and religious scholars for centuries, often resulting in conflict. According to a new report, scientists think they may be closer to deciphering the equation that resulted in life on our planet.
The scenario goes a little something like this. For life to be here, there would have to be DNA or RNA to make proteins, the key to life. Chemists believe that the compounds to make this equation possible would have been abundant in Earth’s early days and given rise to reactions that produce your three major biomolecules for jumpstarting life: nucleic acids, amino acids, and lipids.
In the current issue of Nature Chemistry, Sutherland’s team reports that it created nucleic acid precursors starting with just hydrogen cyanide (HCN), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and ultraviolet (UV) light. What is more, Sutherland says, the conditions that produce nucleic acid precursors also create the starting materials needed to make natural amino acids and lipids. That suggests a single set of reactions could have given rise to most of life’s building blocks simultaneously.
Sutherland’s team argues that early Earth was a favorable setting for those reactions. HCN is abundant in comets, which rained down steadily for nearly the first several hundred million years of Earth’s history. The impacts would also have produced enough energy to synthesize HCN from hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. Likewise, Sutherland says, H2S was thought to have been common on early Earth, as was the UV radiation that could drive the reactions and metal-containing minerals that could have catalyzed them.
Okay, so where exactly does the life part come in to all that science-y talk? Well, Sutherland believes that comets abundant with HCN were pummeling Earth’s surface for a few hundred thousand years and eventually the space beating produced enough energy to create HCN from hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. Add in some UV radiation and rainwater, and eventually you have some soup for the building blocks of life to form.
Now, let the rage debate on the origin of life continue on just has it has for millennia.