At some point during your tenure at high school, you were taught that life on this planet started in the oceans. In fact, this theory has become so well established that scientists use it as a marker for signs and the eventual formation of life on other planets. Yet, a new study from the minds at MIT may point to a much smaller scenario.
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The MIT study finds that shallow bodies of water are what could have potentially been more suitable for Earth’s first life forms.
The Origin of Life
According to the study, bodies of water no bigger than 10 centimeters deep could have held a high enough concentration of all the necessary ingredients needed to create life; the perfect brew. However, one spice stands out above the rest and is the framework needed for life to begin on this planet. The ingredient? Nitrogen.
Nitrogen is the harbinger of life. In the shallow ponds mentioned in the study, nitrogen takes the form of nitrogenous oxides. Within these ponds, the substance would have an easier opportunity to accumulate the compounds to bring about life, compared to the much larger and deeper oceans.
As stated by lead author Sukrit Ranjan, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, “Our overall message is, if you think the origin of life required fixed nitrogen, as many people do, then it’s tough to have the origin of life happen in the ocean.”
Bringing Life Together
There are two trains of thought when exploring the origins of primitive life. First as mentioned above, life started in the ocean around deep-sea hydrothermal vents, to form life’s first molecular building blocks with the occurrence of nitrogenous oxides reacting with carbon dioxide.
While the second nitrogen-based hypothesis centers around RNA or ribonucleic acid, a molecule that today helps encode our genetic information. It is believed a primitive form of RNA came in contact with nitrogenous oxides triggering the molecular chains of life, allowing for this to occur in oceans, lakes, or ponds.
However, the study presented by Ranjan and his team highlighted how certain environmental factors could have destroyed a large number of nitrogenous oxides in the oceans. Even more obvious, the remaining nitrogenous oxides would simply have been too diluted to create life.
Small bodies of water mean higher concentrations of these nitrogenous oxides which means a higher chance of the creation of life.