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NASA Produces Building Blocks of Life in Experimental Recreation of Ancient Earth



Image of NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute

How did life first start?

NASA researchers have shown that they are rare in the water, which could have been common in the early Earth Seafloor the creation of the molecule that is turned into life. Understanding these reactions could not be understood in Saturn and Jupiter.

"We've shown that in geological conditions similar to early Earth, and perhaps to other planets, we can find amino acids and alpha hydroxy acids, "molecules like lactates," from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the USA, "Laurie Barge, astrobiologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Along the seafloor are hydrothermal vents that spew hot fluid into the ocean out of rock chimneys, creating temperature, chemical, and acidity gradients that may provide a source of energy for life-producing chemical reactions. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists recreated this environment using iron, ammonia, and the simple organic molecule pyruvate-dissolved in water from which it was removed (to simulate the anoxic conditions of the early Earth). They slowly add the chemical sodium hydroxide in order to adjust the acidity of the mixture, and then let the sample sit at room temperature or in a bath of hot water.

A lab-grown hydrothermal chimney.
GIF: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Flore

They have also attempted to experiment with miniature chimneys. After three days, all of the chemicals were dissolved in the water, some of the pyruvate had turned into the amino acid alanine and some turned into the chemical lactate. How much alanine or lactate formed depended on the temperature, amount of electrons contained by the iron atom, and the acidity of the water. No alanine was formed in the experiment using the miniature chimneys, although sometimes lactate formed-and the researchers commented that it might have been a whole lot more time.

So, technically the researchers did not recreate life in a beaker, and we do not know the conditions in the lab were the same as those on the early Earth or below the ice on moons like Europe, where some speculate life may have been formed in this way. They are showing that in amino acids, the building block of the proteins which are in a central component of life as we know it, can form in early models of Earth conditions, according to the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Jupiter's moon Europe or Saturn's moon Enceladus are like the conditions presented here. If that's true, then maybe life really could've gotten there, even without sunlight becoming a source of energy. We do not know for sure without visiting.


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