Scientists attempt to re-create how life began
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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  • HudsonC-3
    12/18/2014 - 08:29 p.m.

    Scientists trying to re-create life seems impossible. These scientists almost did it. They used a laser and zapped clay to make 7,600 degrees Fahrenheit. For less than one billionth of a second it created the output of a couple nuclear power plants. I think the scientists should not b trying to re-create life and be happy with what we have now.

  • KeaganB-1
    12/18/2014 - 10:31 p.m.

    Scientists have attempted to recreate how life began. The scientists zapped clay and chemicals. The result was all four of the chemical bases used to make RNA, but that's not to special scientists can do this other ways. The Lazar beam they used was almost 500 feet long. The Lazar beam generated more than 7,600 degrees Fahrenheit. I liked this article and I thought it was very interesting, I hope they do more of these types of experiments.

  • ksadat-5
    12/18/2014 - 11:02 p.m.

    Modern day scientists are simulating the creation of life on earth. The used a very powerful laser to zap ordinary clay and a mixture of chemicals to recreate the energy of the asteroid smashing into earth. The zapping of the mixture created all the materials needed to make RNA. RNA stands for ribonucleic acid. Thus, revealing an important part of how life on earth started.

    This is very impressive. I have heard of scientists trying to recreate how life of earth started, but not to this extent or with such amazing results. The scientists used a laser that was roughly five hundred feet long and zapped a mixture of chemicals for half a second. According to the scientists results, for a very small fraction of a second, a billionth to be specific, the laser produced enough energy that would protrude from multiple nuclear power plants.

  • ConnorK-2
    12/19/2014 - 12:36 a.m.

    Lasers, clay, chemical soup oh my! Scientists in a lab seem to have come up with new evidence on how life on earth could have began. They shot a 500 foot laser at a piece of clay and "chemical soup" which just happened to create RNA. RNA is similar to DNA which is the basic building blocks of all life. Scientists speculate that during the early phases of the universes creation, asteroids would collide together creating RNA which could have lead to life in the universe. However, some scientists, like John Sutherland , disagree. They think the amount produced by these collisions would be to small to sustain enough RNA to create life. I sometimes wonder what caused all this around us to happen, but then I get really scared in my thoughts.

  • BeckettN-2
    12/19/2014 - 12:41 a.m.

    This article is about scientists trying to recreate the birth of life on earth using a laser, chemical soup, and a piece of clay. Some scientists argue this is a big step forward where as others think this experiment was insignificant since it didn't prove that that's how life was created. I think it's great that we're looking into how exactly we came into being.

  • LilyE-4
    12/19/2014 - 02:51 a.m.

    It's true that science is evolving so much over time, and this event just proves how advanced it has become. Scientists have used a powerful laser to try and re-create what sparked the life on Earth. Scientists shot clay and a "chemical soup" with the laser to create the crucial pieces of the building blocks of life. Civics say that the laser was 500 feet long, and created a heat of over 7,600 degrees Fahrenheit. I think that ths experiment just proves how much the whole world has evolved.

  • benjaminsnyder
    12/19/2014 - 10:04 a.m.

    This article is related to science in that scientists are trying to recreate living organisms. If they can complete this, this would be a huge breakthrough for science. This is how this article relates to science.

  • ErikaCzekaj
    12/19/2014 - 11:08 a.m.

    "Scientists attempt to re-create how life began" involves Science because making the Earth involved Science. EVERYTHING in this world involves Science by some sort of way!

  • erica634
    12/19/2014 - 11:09 a.m.

    This involves science because it talks about how scientist recreate the world. They talk about how even power plants have generated over 7,600 Degrees! also it says that the scientist used a lab to come up with their answer.

  • 12Tyler-May
    12/19/2014 - 11:57 a.m.

    Q:How is this experiment different than others seeking the origins of life?

    A:This experiment is different than the others because it is a theory that the world now has life because of an astroid.

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