In the lab, scientists have recreated what could be life’s first spark. Although it will probably never be understood just exactly how life began on Earth, scientists do have several different concepts which they use in order to try and attempt to answer such a challenging question. It is believed by some that an asteroid struck the primitive planet and may have started the building blocks to trigger the creation of life. Researchers now actually think they could have possible evidence to back up such an idea.
Scientists working at the Academy of Sciences, which is located in the Czech Republic, proceeded to use a high powered laser to generate a collision that produced the four critical components of RNA, which is a near relative of DNA. The researchers produced the RNA from a chemical type soup. While the process was unable to verify how life actually began, it ended up being the first time the particles were all produced under one single set of experimental situations. The test results were printed in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
How life was able to come from non-living matter has long evaded scientists. Humans have had some knowledge about what the conditions were on the ancient planet and researchers have tried to recreate that atmosphere for years in order to see if they could produce any of the particles needed that led to life’s spark.
It is thought that life appeared on Earth around 4 billion years ago. It would have been at the same time that a powerful, 150 million year occurrence was going on, known as the Late Heavy Bombardment. This was when the planet was being beaten down with rubble. Several scientists think these collisions could have wiped out very early life forms, while others believe the storms may have created essential circumstances to produce the very blocks needed to bring forth life.
Researchers wanted to perform their own miniature space rock crash so they aimed the laser at the chemical soup they produced. It was made out of clay and a chemical known as formamide. This mixture forms when hydrogen cyanide is combined with water. Many scientists believe formamide was abundant on early Earth.
The laser was able to create concentrated pressure and very high temperatures along with X-rays and extreme UV radiation. These occurrences were what was expected if space rocks crashed onto the surface of the planet. When the researches inspected the subsequent molecules, they discovered that all four predecessor chemicals to the production of RNA were present. These chemicals were adenine, cytosine, guanine and uracil. DNA is considered to be the molecule of life on Earth but many different scientists think RNA might have been the first molecule to encrypt genomic information.
While a test of this magnitude was definitely intriguing, not everyone in the scientific community was convinced of its significance. Several researchers argued that such a quantity of untainted formamide would never have existed on an early Earth. Others declared there would have been too much water to ever allow any type of formamide pools to form. Additionally, the experiment was unable to explain how building blocks of life would have been able to combine with various other particles to even be able to create RNA.
Nevertheless, the scientists performing the study have took note of all the arguments against their experiment and are already in the planning stages of conducting more tests to see if other simple RNA elements are also able to be produced under similar conditions. Whatever side the argument may be on, it is obvious they ended up creating what is assuredly vital pieces of building blocks of life on Earth.
By Kimberly Ruble
AP Big Story
Photo by Roberto Saltorl – Flickr License