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, and some scientists were unimpressed with the results. But the experiment does bolster the long-held theory.

"These findings suggest that the emergence of terrestrial life 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 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 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, 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.

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

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COMMENTS (32)
  • MFrancisco-Sti
    12/18/2014 - 09:46 a.m.

    M - Scientist are trying to make a re-create of how the Earth began.
    E - They are using laser and other sci ency stuff.
    A - I would try to do that even if it doesn't work the first time.
    L - Scientist are trying to re-create Earth and it might work.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    12/18/2014 - 12:59 p.m.

    How are they even going to do this because nobody even really knows how life was created. Depending on what people believe, they might not even agree with it. I just think this might be a very controversial thing among scientists.

  • NashMcComsey-Ste
    12/18/2014 - 01:03 p.m.

    What an enormous development! I am glad that such scientific strides are being made in my lifetime. I only wish the article had more of a lead as to the actual procedure to the experiment.

  • DD2000BASEBALL
    12/18/2014 - 01:09 p.m.

    For this experiment they sort of reenacted life starting. They had clay and chemical soup. They used a 500 foot laser and shot it.It made an explosion which was similar to what started life.

  • SoleilE-5
    12/18/2014 - 04:58 p.m.

    In a recent experiment, scientists zapped clay and various chemicals with a very powerful laser to re-create the impact of an asteroid on the Earth, what scientists believe created life. The reaction in the experiment supported this hypothesis, the effect of the laser on the clay and chemicals left the four chemical bases needed to make RNA (thymine, adenine, guanine, and cytosine) which is considered "the building blocks of all life." Even though some scientists feel as though the experiment didn't reveal enough, further investigation using the date collected will reveal more about the creation of life.
    I think it is fascinating that scientist were able to recreate such a large event using minimal supplies on a smaller scale. I would not have guessed that zapping clay and chemicals with a laser could produce the elements of what I am made of, RNA. I hope this issue is investigated further, but I am also curious as to how people with varied beliefs of how life was created will react to the further discoveries.

  • MJordan-Cas
    12/18/2014 - 06:58 p.m.

    I think it is amazing that scientists can do this work with lasers to re-create such a complex thing. Space is such a big mystery and its amazing that they are trying to find the cause of life and it is very intresting.

    • DevinRam-Ver
      12/19/2014 - 09:14 a.m.

      It's going to be hard to recreate life becuse there's so many ways to do it like a monkey starting to be able to walk on its feet and stop slotting and tuernd all smart ans what not

  • AlexV-Ver
    12/19/2014 - 09:11 a.m.

    I find it interesting that people would take up most of their time to partake in an experiment to recreate something that began 4billion years ago.

  • MikaylaStazewski-Ste
    12/19/2014 - 01:20 p.m.

    I feel like this article would really irritate some people, such as church goers. They like to believe God is the creator, so if they read something that was considered a new way of how the Earth began, and it didn't involve religion.. I don't think they would be too convinced.

  • GChelsea-Cas
    12/19/2014 - 10:01 p.m.

    I think that this article was actually very interesting. If scientists could figure out how earth formed and life began that maybe religion and the world would be different. What if they find out it can't be done will more people start believing in religion? What if they find out that religion doesn't exist by figuring out for sure that this is how we started with a flash of light. It's weird to think hundreds of years ago they wanted things we have today in their wildest dreams. Now one of the most puzzled questions and wildest dreams could be coming true.

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