November 30, 2022

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This element was key to the origin of life on Earth.  We already know where it came from

This element was key to the origin of life on Earth. We already know where it came from

Research by scientists from the University of Cambridge The University of Cape Town showed that seawater may be the missing source for phosphates. Native seawater may contain 1,000 to 10,000 times more phosphate than previously estimated. Details are described in the magazine Nature Communications.

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a. Nick Tosca from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences says:

This could really change the way we think about the environments in which life first arose.

There is no life without phosphorous

Phosphorous is an essential component of the “building blocks of life”, that is, RNA and DNA. It’s also one of the rarest elements in space. Phosphorous became part of terrestrial biology early on, but it is only recently that the role of phosphate in directing the synthesis of molecules necessary for the evolution of life has been recognized.

a. Nick Tosca explains:

Experiments show that amazing things happen – chemists can manufacture key biomolecules if there are too many phosphates in solution.

The topic of discussion was what environmental conditions must occur for phosphate production. Some scientists have argued that when there is a lot of iron, there is less phosphorous. However, this is inconsistent with our knowledge of the early Earth, whose atmosphere was oxygen-poor and iron-rich.

To understand how life became dependent on phosphates and in what environment this element could form, scientists conducted geochemical modeling that replicated the conditions of the young Earth. In laboratory conditions, they created seawater with the same chemistry found on young Earth. Experiments were conducted in an atmosphere devoid of oxygen – as was done on ancient Earth. It turns out that sea water itself can be the source of this element.

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a. Nick Tosca explains:

This does not necessarily mean that life on Earth was born in sea water. Our research opens up many possibilities for how seawater delivers phosphates to different environments, such as lagoons, lagoons, or beaches, where marine aerosols can carry them to land.

The research carried out has implications for scientists trying to assess the possibility of life beyond our planet, also on Mars.