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Scientists have just found a new theory about the origin of life on Earth

Scientists have just found a new theory about the origin of life on Earth

Researchers are advancing their understanding of how life began on Earth through an experiment that simulates the formation of complex molecules under conditions similar to those that existed on early Earth. (picture information)

In a pioneering experiment conducted in the early 1950s, A world I tried to recreate the conditions Primordial Earth In a test tube.

Stanley Miller He placed some simple components that he believed circulated in the young planet's atmosphere and oceans into interconnected flasks, applied heat to them, and electrocuted them to simulate lightning. The results did not take long to become famous: from this primitive soup arose Amino acidsChemical components of life.

The discovery began a search within chemistry And the biology To create experiments that can help answer one of the biggest scientific questions facing humanity: How did life begin on Earth?

now, Scientists Follower Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich He gave a An exciting step forward By demonstrating how more complex molecules, essential for life, can be synthesized from the basic components of living organisms Primordial Earth.

In his study published in the journal naturethe Scientists They replaced the test tubes with small networks of branching cracks that resemble those that form naturally in rocks. They made the water flow Through cracks, along with key chemical components, then heat is applied, simulating a process similar to what might occur near hydrothermal vents in the ocean or in porous rock near a geothermal pool.

Heat in geogrids helps form longer chains of biopolymers. (USGS/AP)

They discovered that the heat flowing through these geological networks sorted and filtered the molecules. Help them create longer chains Calls Biopolymers Which are essential for life. “It's great evidence that simple physical processes can work to do these things,” he said. Matthew PasekMr geology Follower University of South Florida Who did not participate in the investigation.

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The question of how life arises is very broad It goes beyond traditional boundaries Which divides science into different specializations. Chemists, biologists, astrophysicists, and geologists have a seat at the table when it comes to answering the question.

Standardizing those boundaries is what matters Christoph Mastbiophysicist Ludwig Maximilian University of Munichwhose laboratory designed an experimental setup that was somewhat closer to the conditions in which the “prebiotic chemistry” that gave rise to life occurred.

For decades, scientists have faced a problem Primordial Earth It was not a pristine laboratory, with beakers, timed purification steps, and concentrated stocks of ingredients. Recreating the chemistry of life in the laboratory is one thingBut experiments that could be performed in a beaker would be improbable at best under the chaotic conditions of the real world.

“You can think of the pre-life Earth, this soup that forms before life, which is very diluted, and all these different things interact in a way that is completely out of control,” he said. Mast.

The experiment uses networks of cracks and heat to simulate ancient geological conditions. (Christoph B. Mast)

One problem so far is that chemical reactions in the laboratory often give rise to byproducts that can initiate unwanted reactions, leaving scientists with only trace amounts of the base material. So how can Primordial Earth Make enough building blocks for life to arise?

To try to find out, the researchers cut branching networks of interconnecting cracks into a small piece of an inert,… Teflon communicate Fuel enrichment station And put it between two plates of Sapphire.

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The rubies were brought to precise but different temperatures Create heat flow Through the geological network between them, to simulate the way heat might flow in the atmosphere Primordial EarthPossibly near volcanoes or hydrothermal vents. the next, Make the water and basic chemical components flow Through the network of cracks and noticed what was happening.

In a proof-of-concept experiment, they used… WisteriaIt is the simplest amino acid, in addition to a substance called Temp Which can react to join two molecules of glycine. These reactions are difficult in waterhe explains Mastand the Temp It was very rare in Primordial Earth. According to the researchers, when they mixed these ingredients in a cup or in geological fissures without heat, the amount of more complex biopolymer they created was “negligible.”

but when They applied a thermal gradient to the cracks, a significant increase in biopolymer production. This is important because though Amino acids They're important, even They are far from life. For example, these same basic components are found in dead meteorites. “To go to the next level, you have to start making polymers: it's a key step to creating the next kingdom of life,” he says. BASIC.

The research suggests that diverse geological environments could have facilitated the formation of life. (Reuters/Mike Hutchings)

The entity cannot judge the ultimate question of How life began: Was it in a pool, as it may be located on a surface LandOr near hydrothermal vents such as those found in the deep ocean? according to MastHeat flows through rocks can occur in many geological settings and may be “ubiquitous” in… Primordial Earth.

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But the experimental setup could be used to test other aspects of the planet's primordial chemistry. Mast He hopes to create a network of cracks from geological materials and build larger networks of connected chambers. This study is another reminder of fascinating chemical experiments They can ignore an essential part of the primal soup: the bowl.

In 2021, a team of Scientists He discovered that in the famous experiment of the 1950s, the same test tube – or rather glass – was used Borosilicate What it was made of – played a role in the results.

When these Scientists They repeated the experiment in a glass bottle, one of them Teflon Then in one of them Teflon With a little glass BorosilicateThey discovered that glass He was The basic element for catalyzing reactions.

In other words, to cook “primal soup,” The casserole is important“He wrote in an email Juan Manuel Garcia RuizResearch Professor at International Physics Center in Donostia, Spain, which participated in the experiment. He praised the new work for its imaginative approach and, perhaps more importantly, for being so “geologically plausible”.

“It may not be the only mechanism, but it is effective, ingenious, and above all, it is an mechanism Experimental demonstration“, He said Garcia Ruiz. “I think we need more experimental methods to explore the geochemical context of the planet when life was born.”

(c) 2024, The Washington Post