If you believe the classic monster films and old scientific experiments, life begins with a spark.
Not everyone is convinced of such a history of origin, so the search continues for sources of energy that can turn a prebiotic soup into a life-giving dish. Perhaps the secret ingredient is not more shocking than a pinch of salt.
A new study by scientists from the Institute of Earth Science and Life (ELSI) at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan, drew attention to the usual old sodium chloride as a potential channel for chemical energy needed for early biochemistry.
Sodium chloride consists of a ratio of sodium ions and chloride in a ratio of 1: 1, and in this case it can be the cause of chloride ions. As soon as they received a dose of intense electromagnetic radiation, that is.
The origins of life on Earth have fascinated our interests forever.
Science has done a pretty good job explaining how life has evolved to such a degree of diversity. We can use explanations, such as natural selection, to rewind the clock only until now.
At some point, we need to jump from the chaotic twist of organic chemicals to imperfect replications of codes that may qualify as the very first glimpse of life; the first ecosystem, usually called the world RNA hypothesis.
Unfortunately, this whole hypothesis is related to the problem of chicken and eggs.
Life depends on the consumption of energy from a single source – whether in the form of chemical bonds or sunlight – and using it to rearrange compounds. Without a source of energy, we could not speed up the production of basic chemicals responsible for the compilation of primitive genetic codes.
Although all modern organisms inherit the necessary cellular equipment, the first metabolic jump should have been a more common source. Something easier to find not in life, but in the environment.
In the early 1950s, two chemists named Stanley Miller and Harold Uri famously formed a series of amino acids from simpler materials, demonstrating for the first time that basic materials for proteins do not necessarily need a live source.
The supply voltage to their environment, suggesting that the early Earth would have a generous current flow in the form of lightning strikes.
Even if this process does deduce amino acids, RNA consists of a different alphabet of basic chemicals. The development of how they were created also created an energy problem.
Last year, a team of researchers suggested plasma from shock waves pulsing from asteroid impacts could provide enough grunts to turn organic building blocks into formamide — the parent molecule for four letters of RNA.
Part of the problem of dramatic events, such as asteroid strikes and lightning, is a sensible job of explaining the production of a small portion of key players. Meanwhile, there are a number of other chemicals that might have supporting roles that also need history.
This new study has slipped a little further to include a story about a broader sheet, also considered essential to the life cascade of reactions. One such example is a compound called cyanamide.
Previously, the work of other researchers tracked paths from compounds, such as hydrogen cyanide, to the original blocks of the main RNA in the presence of a little more than UV light. But the formation of cyanamide was required, and it was one chemical that no one considered.
"Our goal was to develop a reaction network that produces simple sugars, as well as cyanamide and, therefore, many important precursors, especially for RNA synthesis in a single," the researchers write in their report.
After analyzing the chains of reactions caused not by UV light, but by more intense gamma radiation, they noticed that the levels of cyanamide increased in proportion to rather unexpected reagent-chloride ions.
Of the two ions contained in the salt, it is usually sodium that gets all the attention, and its chloride analogue, which rarely participates in reactions, tends to be overlooked.
It seems that in this case, gamma-ray irradiation weakens the chloride electrons, providing the mixture with the energy necessary to form cyanamide.
In a sense, it sounds harder (and less worried) than lightning strikes and shock waves. But life should not begin with a boom.
Perhaps it was just a fizz with a generous taste of spice.
This study was published in ChemistrySelect,