An intriguing new experiment may have finally solved how life initially began on Earth as scientists have found “compelling new evidence” that the ingredients for life may have come directly from a comet.
To learn whether this was possible, scientists recreated their own laboratory comets and constructed interstellar icy grains covered with water and carbon dioxide so that they could learn whether the building blocks for life as we know it could have come from space, as the Daily Mail report.
To do this, an international team of scientists from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and also Taiwan and France conducted their work in an ultra-high vacuum chamber that was -450 degrees Fahrenheit so that the icy grains found in comets could be created.
Researchers were able to mimic the effects of cosmic rays in space by using high-energy electrons on the icy grains and exposing them to ionizing radiation. After this, researchers discovered that numerous phosphorus oxoacids formed. And while on Earth these may be considered lethal to anything living, out in space it is a completely different matter, according to lead author Andrew Turner of the University of Pikeville.
“On Earth, phosphine is lethal to living beings. But in the interstellar medium, an exotic phosphine chemistry can promote rare chemical reaction pathways to initiate the formation of biorelevant molecules such as oxoacids of phosphorus, which eventually might spark the molecular evolution of life as we know it.”
— Brian Hurley (@brianhurley) September 28, 2018
Scientists took these phosphorus compounds and then fused them with the biomolecules that exist inside the cells of everything that is living on Earth, noting that both phosphates and diphosphoric acid are necessary components for life according to molecular biology. These work in conjunction with phospholipids in cell membranes and adenosine triphosphate, which are able to create material that self-replicates.
As UH Manoa chemistry Professor Ralf Kaiser explained, “The phosphorus oxoacids detected in our experiments by combination of sophisticated analytics involving lasers, coupled to mass spectrometers along with gas chromatographs, might have also been formed within the ices of comets such as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which contains a phosphorus source believed to derive from phosphine. Upon delivery to Earth by meteorites or comets, these phosphorus oxoacids might have been available for Earth’s prebiotic phosphorus chemistry.”
It’s not just life on Earth that may have been formed as the result of comets, but also life in other regions of the universe too.
“Hence an understanding of the facile synthesis of these oxoacids is essential to untangle the origin of water-soluble prebiotic phosphorus compounds and how they might have been incorporated into organisms not only on Earth, but potentially in our universe as well. “
The new study which suggests that life on Earth may have been sparked from ingredients in a comet has been published in Nature Communications.