Navigation Links
Volcanoes may have provided sparks and chemistry for first life
Date:10/16/2008

GREENBELT, Md. - Lightning and gases from volcanic eruptions could have given rise to the first life on Earth, according to a new analysis of samples from a classic origin-of-life experiment by NASA and university researchers. The NASA-funded result is the subject of a paper in Science appearing October 16.

"Historically, you don't get many experiments that might be more famous than these; they re-defined our thoughts on the origin of life and showed unequivocally that the fundamental building blocks of life could be derived from natural processes," said lead author Adam Johnson, a graduate student with the NASA Astrobiology Institute team at Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind.

From 1953 to 1954, Professor Stanley Miller, then at the University of Chicago, performed a series of experiments with a system of closed flasks containing water and a gas of simple molecules. At the time, the molecules used in the experiment (hydrogen, methane, and ammonia) were thought to be common in Earth's ancient atmosphere.

The gas was zapped with an electric spark. After running the experiment for a few weeks, the water turned brown. When Miller analyzed the water, he found it contained amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins -- life's toolkit -- used in everything from structures like hair and nails to processes that speed up, facilitate, and regulate chemical reactions. The spark provided the energy for the molecules to recombine into amino acids, which rained out into the water. His experiment showed how simple molecules could be assembled into the more complex molecules necessary for life by natural processes, like lightning in Earth's primordial atmosphere.

Miller came to the Chemistry Department at the University of California, San Diego in 1960. Professor Jeffrey Bada, a co-author of the paper, was his graduate student in chemistry between 1965 and 1968. Bada joined the faculty of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (part of UCSD) in 1971.

"Stanley and I continued to work on various projects until he died in 2007. When Adam and I found the samples from the original experiments, it was a great opportunity to reanalyze these historic samples using modern methods," said Bada. The team wanted to see if modern equipment could discover chemicals that could not be detected with the techniques of the 1950s. They analyzed the samples and turned to Daniel Glavin and Jason Dworkin of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who helped the analysis with state-of-the-art instruments in their Goddard Astrobiology Analytical lab.

Miller actually ran three slightly different experiments, one of which injected steam into the gas to simulate conditions in the cloud of an erupting volcano. "We found that in comparison to Miller's classic design everyone is familiar with from textbooks, samples from the volcanic apparatus produced a wider variety of compounds," said Bada.

"We discovered 22 amino acids, 10 of which have never been found in any other experiment like this," said Glavin. This is significant because thinking on the composition of Earth's early atmosphere has changed. Instead of being heavily laden with hydrogen, methane, and ammonia, many scientists now believe Earth's ancient atmosphere was mostly carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen.

"At first glance, if Earth's early atmosphere had little of the molecules used in Miller's classic experiment, it becomes difficult to see how life could begin using a similar process. However, in addition to water and carbon dioxide, volcanic eruptions also release hydrogen and methane gases. Volcanic clouds are also filled with lightning, since collisions between volcanic ash and ice particles generate electric charge. Since the young Earth was still hot from its formation, volcanoes were probably quite common then. The organic precursors for life could have been produced locally in tidal pools around volcanic islands, even if hydrogen, methane, and ammonia were scarce in the global atmosphere. As the tidal pools evaporated, they would concentrate the amino acids and other molecules, making it more likely that right sequence of chemical reactions to start life could occur. In fact, volcanic eruptions could assist the origin of life in another way as well they produce carbonyl sulfide gas, which helps link amino acids into chains called peptides." said Glavin.


'/>"/>

Contact: Nancy Neal-Jones
Nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov
301-286-0039
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. Venus Express reboots the search for active volcanoes on Venus
2. Studying volcanoes with balloons
3. Freshman class sparks start-up company
4. Computational actinide chemistry: Are we there yet?
5. American Chemical Society calls green chemistry bill a smart step
6. Using green chemistry to deliver cutting-edge drugs
7. Chemistry turns killer gas into potential cure
8. K-State chemistry professor to receive Masao Horiba award
9. Biogeochemistry -- A window into the Earths ecological health
10. Going live with click chemistry
11. Story ideas from the Journal of Biological Chemistry
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
Volcanoes may have provided sparks and chemistry for first life
(Date:4/13/2017)... UBM,s Advanced Design and Manufacturing event in ... and evolving technology through its 3D Printing and Smart ... the expo portion of the event and feature a ... on trending topics within 3D printing and smart manufacturing. ... will take place June 13-15, 2017 at the Jacob K. ...
(Date:4/11/2017)... 11, 2017 NXT-ID, Inc. (NASDAQ:   ... announces the appointment of independent Directors Mr. Robin D. ... Board of Directors, furthering the company,s corporate governance and expertise. ... Gino Pereira , ... forward to their guidance and benefiting from their considerable expertise ...
(Date:4/4/2017)... NEW YORK , April 4, 2017   ... solutions, today announced that the United States Patent and ... The patent broadly covers the linking of an iris ... the same transaction) and represents the company,s 45 th ... our latest patent is very timely given the multi-modal ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:8/15/2017)... ... August 15, 2017 , ... Nanomedical Diagnostics ... biotherapeutics development, announces the launch of the new NHS Agile biosensor chip ... binding data for a wide range of molecules, including small and large molecules, ...
(Date:8/15/2017)... ... August 15, 2017 , ... ... of 6” modular downlights designed to stay tightly sealed and perform efficiently for ... damp and wet location listings just aren't enough, such as: hospitals; behavioral health ...
(Date:8/15/2017)... ... 2017 , ... JULABO USA introduces its new website ... it easy to navigate through the site whether you’re in the office, in ... educational industry content and visit the company’s social media accounts, all on one ...
(Date:8/14/2017)... ... 2017 , ... The Conference Forum has confirmed the one-day agenda ... September 6, 2017 at the Marriott Copley Place in Boston, MA. , Returning as ... Regulatory Strategy, Pfizer Innovative Research Lab, Pfizer, who leads 19 industry speakers in discussing ...
Breaking Biology Technology: