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NASA scientists build "primal sea" to restore the origins of life



  enceladus-thermal-jets.jpg

The ocean below Saturn's moon Enceladus can contain the necessary ingredients for life to begin.


NASA / JPL-Caltech

If life can find a way to thrive in the deepest reaches of the Earth's oceans, what hinders it in other places in the cosmos?

Astrobiologists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are trying to answer this question. They also deal with the idea that they have recreated the conditions of the deep ocean in the lab and four billion years ago found that the building blocks of life actually formed on the ocean floor.

Sunlight can not penetrate miles of water to the ocean floor, making it a remarkably cold and completely dark place. But scientists are still finding hydrothermal springs – openings in the seafloor that throw hot water and material out of the earth's crust – into bustling metropolises full of extreme deep-sea organisms. The vents provide a place where life does not need sunlight to survive. Instead, it may focus on a buffet of chemicals that form in the billowing black chimneys gushing out of the ocean floor. I think the hypothesis that life has evolved at the vents is the best we've got. " says Lucy Stewart, a marine microbiologist at GNS Science in New Zealand, who was not involved in the study.

The Astrobiologists of JPL, led by Laurie Barge, thought in the same vein.To investigate this dilemma, they reproduced the conditions of the deep ocean in standard laboratory beakers and helped to understand how life in the early days of the earth could be slowly cobbled together.

The team produced its own Young Earth Ocean In-A glass, the Water , Minerals and the molecules containing ammonia and pyruvate, which are usually located near hydrothermal openings and as precursors of the building blocks of the Be seen life. Heating the mixture to 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius) and reducing the oxygen content provided a laboratory model of the "prehistoric" conditions.

A laboratory-grown hydrothermal chimney.


NASA / JPL Caltech / Flores

Their findings, published in the Proceedings journal of the National Academy of Sciences on February 25, show that their laboratory-built hydrothermal openings are places where the building blocks of life – amino acids – can form.

A remarkable amino acid was produced in the aquarium of the early Earth: alanine. The molecule is considered critical for the synthesis of proteins that perform a dizzying array of normal functions in organisms ranging from bacteria to humans. The team also found lactate, which some scientists believe could be a precursor molecule that makes life thrive.

"We have shown that under geological conditions similar to the early Earth and perhaps other planets, we can form amino acids and alpha hydroxy acids from a simple reaction under mild conditions that would have existed on the seabed," Barge said.

Importantly, in this experiment, the NASA research team did not itself create "life" – but it did show how the building blocks from which eventually becomes can emerge in the deep ocean around these vents ,

"The researchers of the origin of life are still finding out all the steps between" simple organic compounds "and" living organism, "said Stewart. "Knowing how they can emerge in a hydrothermal fan is another step in understanding how the entire biogenesis process evolved 4 billion years ago."

Follow-up studies will continue to examine their laboratory-grown oceans to search for other potential amino acids and precursor molecules.

The team's findings provide a foundation on which other researchers could best select the places in the cosmos where life could arise, and they already feel comfortable in some interplanetary locations. For example, Enceladus, Saturn's sixth largest moon, is an icy marble of a world covered in a thick layer of ice. Scientists have discovered complex molecules on Enceladus and believe that the oceans can contain hydrothermal sources under their frozen exterior.

Life might exist, "Barge explained.

This gives rise to the hope that life is hiding in our own backyard, I mean, if we can make the building blocks in a glass beaker in Pasadena, California, Life may also find a way under the ice of a distant moon.

Originally published at 4:31 pm on February 25th PT
Update at 5:54 pm PT: Comments by Lucy Stewart added [19659022]
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