Scientists re-create what may be life's first spark

December 8, 2014 bySeth Borenstein
This handout photo provided by Svatopluk Civis, taken in 2014, shows the Prague Asterix Laser System in Prague. Scientists in a lab used a powerful laser to re-create what could have been the original spark of life on primordial Earth, possibly ignited by a crashing asteroid. Researchers said they zapped clay and a chemical soup with the laser to simulate the energy of a speeding asteroid smashing into the planet. That cooked up from scratch what can be considered crucial parts of the building blocks of life. They created all four chemical bases that are needed to make RNA, a simpler relative of DNA, the blueprint of life. (AP Photo/Dagmar Civisova)

Scientists in a lab used a powerful laser to re-create what might have been the original spark of life on Earth.

The researchers zapped clay and a chemical soup with the laser to simulate the energy of a speeding asteroid smashing into the planet. They ended up creating what can be considered crucial pieces of the building blocks of .

The findings do not prove that this is how life started on Earth about 4 billion years ago, and some scientists were unimpressed with the results. But the experiment does bolster the long-held theory.

"These findings suggest that the emergence of is not the result of an accident but a direct consequence of the conditions on the primordial Earth and its surroundings," the researchers concluded in the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The laser-zapping produced all four chemical bases needed to make RNA, a simpler relative of DNA, the blueprint of life. From these bases, there are many still-mysterious steps that must happen for life to emerge. But this is a potential starting point in that process.

Scientists have been able to make these RNA bases other ways, using chemical mixes and pressure, but this is the first experiment to test the theory that the energy from a space crash could trigger the crucial chemical reaction, said lead author Svatopluk Civis of the Heyrovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry in Prague.

Civis said the scientists used a laser almost 500 feet long that for a fraction of a second zapped the chemical soup with an invisible beam. The power was so intense and concentrated that Civis said that for less than a billionth of a second, it was equivalent to the output of a couple of . It produced what would be around a billion kilowatts of energy for that sliver of time over a fraction of an inch, generating heat of more than 7,600 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers said.

Some of the earliest life on Earth seemed to coincide with a period called the Late Heavy Bombardment, when the solar system's asteroid belt was bigger and stray space rocks hit our planet more often, said study co-author David Nesvorny, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado.

At the time, asteroids were bombarding Earth 10 times more frequently than before or after.

Outside experts were divided about the importance of the experiment.

Steve Benner, a prominent biological chemist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Florida, said it is quite relevant because it produced the starting material that would have been around in an early Earth.

But John Sutherland of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, said the amount produced of one base was so small that the results don't seem relevant. Other researchers also downplayed the work.

An alternative theory of early life on Earth says that microbes arrived here from space aboard a comet or an asteroid—a sort of seed theory of life. Civis' work bolsters what would instead be a fire theory of life. It is a theory of both creation and destruction.

For this whole chemical reaction to work, the extreme energy from the asteroid collision would have had to break down molecules into less-complex chemicals, which then could re-form into the more vital combinations. The type of asteroid impact that might have sparked this process also snuffed out the dinosaurs billions of years later, Nesvorny said.

Explore further: New Study Brings Scientists Closer to the Origin of RNA

More information: High-energy chemistry of formamide: A unified mechanism of nucleobase formation, Martin Ferus, PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1412072111

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winthrom
5 / 5 (1) Dec 08, 2014
I thought lightning was the "spark".
imido
Dec 08, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Veneficus
5 / 5 (16) Dec 09, 2014
"An alternative theory of early life on Earth says that microbes arrived here from space aboard a comet or an asteroid."

This may be an alternative theory of early life on EARTH, but this experiment is much more than that: it shows how fundamental building blocks can be created anywhere. Explaining life on earth by asteroids is in a way the same as believing that a deity caused it: it shifts the question of origin to a different part, it doesn't solve it.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (10) Dec 09, 2014
Making nucleotides takes a lot of energy, so this isn't unexpected. But of course ease of production helps most or all theories of life emergence.

Mostly, the Hadean ocean was able to do glucolysis, and in submarine alkaline vents gluconeogenesis after their metabolic engine generates 2/3C phosphated hydrocarbons, which results in the sugar backbones and eventually in the pyrimidines.

And the Late Heavy Bombardment is late. The earliest zircon shows Earth was habitable already 4.4 billion years ago, when there were lot of alkaline hydrothermal vent systems around due to the convecting (thermal plume) mantle.
jsdarkdestruction
5 / 5 (10) Dec 09, 2014
I thought lightning was the "spark".

I think the word spark has been used here to give the title a little extra jolt to it to get people to read it. I liked the article but it is really more about possible ways that the precursors of life formed than how those precursors themselves eventually became life as we know it.

'The laser-zapping produced all four chemical bases needed to make RNA, a simpler relative of DNA, the blueprint of life. From these bases, there are many still-mysterious steps that must happen for life to emerge. But this is a potential starting point in that process.'
dreamnetting
5 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2014
There was an experiment done many years ago, where scientists (I wish I could remember who, but I want to say U of C Berkeley?) took a blend of organic materials and brought them down to near absolute zero. In doing so, cell-like structures began to form. Does anyone know what happened to this study? I could see the two thoughts connecting nicely.
Ozmandias
5 / 5 (3) Dec 10, 2014
Even though the amount produced of one base was so small, there would have been many energetic asteroid impacts around the time of the Late Heavy Bombardment. I also wonder whether the aggregation of the Earth's mass may have caused the production of some of these fundamental nucleotide bases.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (8) Dec 10, 2014
@dreamnetting: I'm sorry, I haven't heard about that.

There are experiments like that which consider chemistry in space. (But such an impacted asteroid would need to be way out, somewhere at Pluto distance to cool down that much. Near 0 K experiments usually looks at dust and molecular cloud chemistry.)

There are also experiments that look at chemistry around 0 deg C (273 K), because some abiotic processes are eased by ice. I know a little bit more about those, because they concern conditions on Earth. (Miller, he of the original 'spark' experiments, pioneered those too.) I can't remember if they create vesicles, but I can't see why not.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (9) Dec 10, 2014
@Ozmandias: There are two primary ways to look at the necessary biochemistry. Either start out with an initial supply of biochemicals of ~ 100 kyrs worth, and see if they can evolve carbon & energy uptake - "soup" theories. Or start out with carbon & energy uptake mechanisms, and see if they can evolve biochemicals - "fuel cell" theories.

As it happens, C uptake from CO2 is so energy demanding (as soon as the temperature goes below 100 degC) that catalysts can't cut it. That is why life emerges instead of mere CO2 reduction to CH4 we see in heated geosystems (Fisher-Tropsch reactions). Core CO2 metabolism uses thermodynamic engines for moving entropy (free energy) around - electron bifurcating metal atoms - and those were available on early Earth.

It is thus likelier that "fuel cell" systems emerged and solved the hard problem from the start than the other way around. (It is also likelier considering kept homologies such as those metal atom engines.)

[tbctd]
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (7) Dec 10, 2014
[ctd]

And if one nucleotide is dilute, and it is necessary for "soup", those theories are out of luck. I would consider that a failed test vs them.

[Refs fuel cell theories would be Russell et al papers.]
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.4 / 5 (10) Dec 10, 2014
According to the Qur'an[23:12–15], God created man from clay.
The Quran says lots of different things; sperm drop, dust, clay, water, various elements, some kind of liquid, and in 4 stages.
http://www.ldolph...eat.html

-sounds like Allah was wise enough to hedge his bets.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (9) Dec 10, 2014
@version: According to science [Archaeology 101], man created religion out of ignorance.

If you want to opinionate on science, study some first.

And seriously, do you want to reference that particular religious myth, have you even looked in it? I have, and it is obvious that it is made for brainwashing. (Mohammedanist myth uses 3 mythical magical beings, endlessly repeating themselves.) Plus it refers to older abrahamist myth texts, that are obviously false, never mind that there are 100s of 1000s of other equally valid myths. (Abrahamist myth uses 2 different creationist myths, conflicting in time order.)

Besides the unwarranted trolling of science knowledge, the moral in referencing false, brainwash myths is perverse in itself. And to imagine that someone else would be interested in that hogwash is pretty much as perverse.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.7 / 5 (12) Dec 10, 2014
Laser can not mimic the shock wave, only thermal... researchers rely on asteroid impact istead of lightning... such extreme conditions can not be synthesized complex organic molecules... be decomposed very easily into simpler molecules. If they get all the necessary materials... again will not emerge life by itself
I suppose guessing for religionists is akin to praying. They dont realize that praying is only another name for wishing/begging, even though they are quite willing to acknowledge this of others who do it with their own gods.

Similarly, guessing must seem a legitimate way of discerning the nature of things because they are used to guessing what the cryptic passages in their books are really supposed to mean, and are encouraged to do so.

They all do it, and they all come up with wildly different interpretations. But this doesnt seem to faze them, as they will 'pray' about it and god will naturally say they are right. All of them.

I am guessing ren prays a lot.
foolspoo
5 / 5 (4) Dec 11, 2014
This experiment, which shows brilliant promise for our journey on creating life, is laughable when one considers the terribly small fraction of energy they produced compared to the energy that was being smacked into the primordial earth on an daily (and probably far more frequent) basis. these 1bn kilowatts/s energy is comparable to a rock a little larger than a basketball court.....
Mike_Massen
4.3 / 5 (6) Dec 13, 2014
Sparks, impacts, aggregation, shortwave light; ALL are sufficient forms of energy to make DNA base pairs from the common materials available at the time from Earth's atmosphere, here is just one example:-
https://en.wikipe...ormamide

Which given short amount of time & heat:-
https://en.wikipe.../Guanine

What is the alternative, that we blindly accept the ideas of Moses who claimed the one god of the whole universe spoke to him & claimed he punished all of creation because a girl (Eve) was not educated by the god AND let her be manipulated by a serpent so ALL of creation for EVER should suffer regardless of whether they believe in Jesus or not !

So Ren82 accepts Moses & Jesus despite the fact they both are BAD communicators & ONLY wrote for a small number of middle eastern people. ie God didnt make a copy of the bible for everyone all over the world.

So mohammed came along yet Ren82 disbelieves his claims but, not those of Moses/Jesus Y?
Mike_Massen
4.4 / 5 (7) Dec 13, 2014
Ren82 claimed
Laser can not mimic the shock wave, but only thermal effect of the collision of an asteroid with the Earth's atmosphere and the Earth.
You only need common atoms & heat and you get formamide:-
https://en.wikipe...ormamide
Which then forms (in the presence of heat):-
https://en.wikipe.../Guanine

Ren82 just can't think
Surprisingly this researchers rely on asteroid impact istead of lightning as usualy for the synthesis of some amino acids and building blocks of DNA (RNA).
So what, so you are for one & against another - did your god tell u that ?

How ?

Ren82 claimed
In such extreme conditions can not be synthesized complex organic molecules but such molecules if exist can be decomposed very easily into simpler molecules.
No. You are wrong and obviously know nothing of biochemistry. DNA base pairs are quite robust & in the early earth dissolve into water and fall to depths with low oxygen & react with other DNA bases.
Mike_Massen
4.5 / 5 (8) Dec 13, 2014
Veneficus offered
Explaining life on earth by asteroids is in a way the same as believing that a deity caused it: it shifts the question of origin to a different part, it doesn't solve it.
Although it does deflect the issue to a degree I don't see how its the same as an arbitrary belief from the claim of a man in the middle east.

From old & new testament we can describe the claimed attributes of that deity.

ie.
-Arbitrary punisher
-Does not educate
-Uncommunicative
-Nil timely demonstration other than by claim

From basic physics & spectral observations of compounds in space we can asses probability, given what we know of biochem now, the relative probability interactions have occurred either in space or on planets.

Needless to say, it wouldn't seem necessary to describe the combinatorial complexity of the immense number of potential environments offering potential for complex molecules to occur.

Universe does seem to have propensity to self-assemble & easily !
kochevnik
5 / 5 (6) Dec 13, 2014
@Ren Extremely unlikely probability.
So far from being the creator of the universe, your gawd is now reduced to the guy who dropped a lit cigarette on the leaking gas tank
baumer5000
1 / 5 (4) Dec 22, 2014
1. Nothing comes from nothing (2nd law of thermodynamics)
2. Life comes from life (law of bio-genesis)
3. Intelligent design comes from an intelligent designer

"The God who made the world and all things in it...in Him we live and move and exist." (Acts 17:24-28)
Uncle Ira
5 / 5 (6) Dec 22, 2014
1. Nothing comes from nothing (2nd law of thermodynamics)
2. Life comes from life (law of bio-genesis)
3. Intelligent design comes from an intelligent designer

"The God who made the world and all things in it...in Him we live and move and exist." (Acts 17:24-28)


You join the physorg club just post that silly thing? I am not sure, but you might be the very first Skippy who ever won a silly looking pointy cap on his very first postum. Congratulations Skippy, now why you don't just take a seat over there in the corner quiet like so we admire how good he looks on you.
baumer5000
1 / 5 (2) Dec 23, 2014
Given all the evidence, I find it much easier to have a faith in a creator God than to have faith in the religion of naturalism. Making simple chemical structures is a far cry from a self replicating life. In my opinion, it is more logical that this could not have occurred by natural means.

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