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Tracing life's origins: Cambridge team explores early Earth conditions
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Tracing life's origins: Cambridge team explores early Earth conditions
by Sophie Jenkins
London, UK (SPX) Apr 22, 2024

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a model illustrating how conditions conducive to life may have arisen naturally. Their study focuses on the synthesis of essential life components like proteins, phospholipids, and nucleotides, crucially involving nitrogen-rich molecules such as nitriles and isonitriles.

Past studies have highlighted these molecules' potential in forming life's building blocks, but synthesizing them in significant amounts within a single environment has remained elusive. The Cambridge team's recent work, published in the journal Life, proposes that graphitisation-a process of converting carbon into graphite-could yield these molecules in substantial quantities.

"Much of life hinges on simplicity and order," explained Dr. Paul Rimmer, Assistant Professor of Experimental Astrophysics at the Cavendish Laboratory, who contributed to the study. "Graphitisation helps streamline the chemical chaos, fostering conditions suitable for life by selectively producing nitriles and isonitriles."

This modeling suggests a scenario during Earth's Hadean eon, postulating that a celestial impact, akin to one by a moon-sized object, could trigger reactions between iron and Earth's water, forming a carbon-rich tar. This tar, upon reacting with high-temperature magma, could transform into graphite, simultaneously generating life-essential nitrogen compounds.

Supporting evidence for this theory comes from komatiitic rocks, volcanic formations known to emerge from ultra-high-temperature magma, aligning with the necessary conditions posited by the researchers.

"As we see from komatiite formations, such temperatures were plausible on the early Earth, potentially leading to the synthesis of these vital compounds," said Dr. Oliver Shorttle, a co-author and Professor at the Institute of Astronomy and Department of Earth Sciences.

Further research will focus on replicating these conditions in laboratory settings to observe the stability of these compounds in water, which is crucial for validating their role in the origin of life.

Research Report:A Surface Hydrothermal Source of Nitriles and Isonitriles

Related Links
University of Cambridge
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science
Life Beyond Earth

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