Scientists attempt to re-create how life began (Thinkstock)
Scientists attempt to re-create how life began
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How did life on Earth begin?

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

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 life.

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

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The laser-zapping produced all four chemical bases needed to make RNA. It's 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. That's according to lead author Svatopluk Civis of the Heyrovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry in Prague.

Civis said the scientists used a laser almost 500 feet long. For a fraction of a second, it zapped the chemical soup with an invisible beam. The power was intense and concentrated. Civis said that for less than a billionth of a second, it was equivalent to the output of a couple of nuclear power plants. It produced what would be around a billion kilowatts of energy for that sliver of time over a fraction of an inch. It generated 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. That's when the solar system's asteroid belt was bigger. Stray space rocks hit our planet more often, said study co-author David Nesvorny. He is 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 is a biological chemist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Florida. He 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, disagreed. He 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.

Critical thinking challenge: How is this experiment different than others seeking the origins of life?

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COMMENTS (81)
  • NickD-Mau
    12/18/2014 - 11:35 a.m.

    Those people had to be super smart to think of that because I could not probably do that.And I did not know that but I do know that people have been wondering about that question for a long time.

  • UmarH-Mau
    12/18/2014 - 11:39 a.m.

    1.how do you re-create life like some people will look weird its impossible to re-create life everyone will look like a person from a movie or a video game it would be choas mabye there would be a zombie apocolipse that would be not good at all mabye fairtails would come or like heavan mabye it would be awseome except if like there were bad parts it would be awesome it would be amazing but that would never happen thanks for reading!

  • JH2001skate
    12/18/2014 - 01:01 p.m.

    it is an expirement and they use clay and a laser instead of writing stuff out on a paper.they are visual examples so its easier to see

  • wpapril30
    12/18/2014 - 01:09 p.m.

    the technology that we have is more research about life can we make life none will know that life can be made of old theory are theory is more quest able with science.

  • Jackson_Roush
    12/18/2014 - 01:44 p.m.

    This is not how the earth was created. God made the Universe in 6 days and the earth is only a couple thousand years old.

  • JaydonJCamo
    12/18/2014 - 02:32 p.m.

    That is great that they're finding out how life began. I wonder what the true reason is? Maybe there were astroids that brought RNA or DNA here.

  • RyanSOrange
    12/18/2014 - 02:35 p.m.

    Well at least scientist are trying to recreate how life began, but I don't know if that can be achieved. When the beam hit the chemical soup it said, "In a billionth of a second, it was equivalent to the output of a couple of nuclear power plants." That was so shocking to me because that is a whole lot of energy and also it said, "It generated heat of more than 7,600 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers said." That was blew me out of my seat because imaging touching that, it would like kill you immediately.

  • DylanM-4
    12/18/2014 - 02:44 p.m.

    Scientists have tried to do an experiment to recreate how all human life form was created. They used an extremely powerful laser, over 500 feet long to zap a clay and chemical soup. Scientists say that it was able to recreate the four components that are in RNA, which is a simpler form of DNA. There is a large controversy over weather this could actually prove how the first human life was formed, but some think they have found the answer. I think its important to figure out how the first humans were made so we could predict what other species could come about in a couple years.

  • Kaylab-5
    12/18/2014 - 04:32 p.m.

    Many people have been asking questions about how the Earth was created. Finally scientists are attempting to recreate the beginning of Earth. They have been using new technologies to work on this project an are making progress. They are using lasers to zap clay and create models. I find this article very interesting because I have asked the same question. How was the Earth created? I would love to learn more about this project.

  • KellerB-2
    12/18/2014 - 07:25 p.m.

    i think that this is a very interesting scientific experiment. this article is about a group of scientists who try to recreate the big bang with science.

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