A new NASA study has reconstructed the origins of life, building ocean bottoms 4 billion years ago, while humanity is trying to understand how life began on Earth and where it could be found.
The study, conducted by astrobiologists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and published Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, look at how life began in the hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean.
"Understanding where one can go with just organic materials and minerals before having a real cell is really important to understand what types of environment life could emerge from," said Laurie Barge , the principal investigator, in a statement. "In addition, examining the impact of factors such as the atmosphere, the ocean, and the minerals in the vents can help you understand the likelihood that this will occur on another planet."
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Barge and his team were able to recreate the seabed by filling cups with mixtures similar to the primordial ocean, including water, minerals, ammonia and pyruvate, usually located near vents hydrothermal. The mixture was heated to 158 degrees Fahrenheit, oxygen was removed and they added iron hydroxide, or "green rust," which was abundant in the early days of the planet.
The green rust reacted with the remaining traces of oxygen, which produced the amino acid alanine and the alpha hydroxy acid lactate. Some researchers think that these could combine (like Legos) and create other complex molecules that could then be a precursor to life.
"We have shown that in geological conditions similar to those of the Earth and perhaps to other planets, we can form amino acids and alpha-hydroxy acids from a simple reaction in soft conditions that would have existed at the bottom of the sea, "added Barge in a statement. .
It is important to note that NASA did not create life itself in the experiment, but this suggests that hydrothermal vents might appear elsewhere in the universe and form a basic element of life.
"If we have these hydrothermal vents on Earth, similar reactions could possibly occur on other planets," said Erika Flores, co-author of the new study at JPL.
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"We have not yet concrete evidence of life elsewhere," Barge said. "But understanding the conditions that are necessary at the beginning of life can help to narrow the places where we think life could exist."
The implications of research are vast, especially as new celestial bodies are discovered, some with the necessary components to house life.
In 2018, researchers discovered that the moon of Saturn, Enceladus, had the "basic elements of life", after the discovery of complex organic molecules on the natural satellite.
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A recently discovered exoplanet orbiting Barnard's star, known as Barnard B, could potentially become extraterrestrial if water existed somewhere on the planet. This is due to the possibility of geothermal heating, which could create an ocean of primitive life.