Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Life on earth might have originated in Greenland

Clues have been found that the very first biological molecules used to create life may have been produced in Greenland, almost four billion years ago. That's what a team of French scientists discovered, after they looked at mud volcanoes containing a specific element that is believed to be required to form the first biological molecules that roamed the earth. While volcanoes have already been touted as the creators of life's molecules, the French scientists believe the ones in Greenland are the most promising candidate to have sparked the creation of life on earth.
The mud volcanoes in Greenland.
The findings are interesting because the site in Greenland meets all the criteria scientists have set for the creation of life to happen. The rocks that were investigated are old enough: 3.8 billion years old, some of the oldest still found on earth. And they contain a mineral called serpentinite, which is believed to be necessary for the creation of molecules that can be used for life. This rare mineral is formed when sea water enters the deep crypts of the earth, reaching up to 200km depth in the upper mantle.

At Isua, the place in Greenland were the life-giving mud volcanoes were found, there are copious amounts of phosphorus, which is also needed for life. In addition, the temperature is high enough for the chemical reactions required to form biomolecules. Measurements on the zinc deposition in these volcanoes revealed that the pH level four billion years ago must have been relatively high. Other promising locations for the formation of life were lower in pH (which means they are more acidic), impairing the chemical formation of molecules used for life.

The scientists claim that Isua is the first location that meets all the requirements scientists believe need to be met before life can be created. Four billion years ago, Greenland could have been the 'primordial soup' for amino acids, which are the building blocks for proteins. Current life forms all depend on proteins to build their cells, and to induce certain chemical processes needed for life.

Currently, many questions remain about how life on earth can be formed. Theories about it are bundled as abiogenesis: chemical processes that give rise to the first forms of life on earth. So far, we have only found circumstances that we think are suitable for giving birth to life, but we have yet to find any physical prove that life can be created out of inorganic matter, somewhere in nature. 

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