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Earliest life may have arisen in ponds, not oceans

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Christian Fernsby | Monday April 15, 2019 7:35AM ET
pond
World   In shallow ponds, nitrogen, in the form of nitrogenous oxides

Primitive ponds may have provided a suitable environment for brewing up Earth's first life forms, more so than oceans, a new MIT study finds.


Researchers report that shallow bodies of water, on the order of 10 centimeters deep, could have held high concentrations of what many scientists believe to be a key ingredient for jump-starting life on Earth: nitrogen.

In shallow ponds, nitrogen, in the form of nitrogenous oxides, would have had a good chance of accumulating enough to react with other compounds and give rise to the first living organisms. In much deeper oceans, nitrogen would have had a harder time establishing a significant, life-catalyzing presence, the researchers say.

If primitive life indeed sprang from a key reaction involving nitrogen, there are two ways in which scientists believe this could have happened.

The first hypothesis involves the deep ocean, where nitrogen, in the form of nitrogenous oxides, could have reacted with carbon dioxide bubbling forth from hydrothermal vents, to form life's first molecular building blocks.

The second nitrogen-based hypothesis for the origin of life involves RNA, ribonucleic acid, a molecule that today helps encode our genetic information.

In its primitive form, RNA was likely a free-floating molecule.

When in contact with nitrogenous oxides, some scientists believe, RNA could have been chemically induced to form the first molecular chains of life.

This process of RNA formation could have occurred in either the oceans or in shallow lakes and ponds.

Nitrogenous oxides were likely deposited in bodies of water, including oceans and ponds, as remnants of the breakdown of nitrogen in Earth's atmosphere.

Atmospheric nitrogen consists of two nitrogen molecules, linked via a strong triple bond, that can only be broken by an extremely energetic event, namely, lightning.

 

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