Where does the “source of life” come from? Scientists study reveals pathways

Recently, Sun Weidong’s research group of the Deep Sea Center of the Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences has made important progress in the field of the origin of life. The team used high temperature and high pressure experiments to prove that nitrogen can quickly participate in the serpentinization process and generate a large amount of ammonia, combined with the team’s preliminary research, proved that in the early stage of the earth in the late magma sea, serpentinization caused the earth’s atmosphere to change from “carbon dioxide + nitrogen” to “ammonia + methane”, under the action of lightning can synthesize a large number of amino acids, in the supercritical water + carbon dioxide layer to form amino acid soup, is the key to the origin of life. The research results were published in the academic journal Scientific Bulletin.

The question of the origin of life is one of the most important scientific issues in natural science, and has important guiding significance for the study of habitable planets and the discovery of extraterrestrial life. The famous Miller-Urey experiment proved in 1953 that methane, ammonia, hydrogen and water vapor can produce a large number of amino acids under the action of electric sparks, taking the first step from inorganic matter to organic matter necessary for life, and this reaction is considered one of the most important prereactions in the origin of life. However, it is traditionally believed that the main components of the earth’s atmosphere in the ancient world are carbon dioxide and nitrogen, lack of methane and ammonia, the efficiency of amino acid synthesis in the neutral atmosphere will be greatly reduced, the Miller-Urey reaction is limited, and whether amino acids can be synthesized in large quantities in the original atmosphere is controversial.

Model diagram of the formation of ancient surface amino acid soup Courtesy of the Oceanographic Research Institute

In view of the lack of ammonia, a key raw material for the synthesis of amino acids on the surface of the underworld, Sun Weidong’s research group carried out a high temperature and high pressure hydrothermal experiment on serpentinized ammonia synthesis, and studied the reaction of the “peridotite-water-nitrogen (-carbon dioxide)” system under the conditions of surface temperature and pressure in the ancient underworld, so as to prove that nitrogen participates in the serpentinized ammonia synthesis process, and then provide enlightenment for the source of ammonia in the process of the origin of life.

Studies have proved that serpentinization and ammonia synthesis can occur extensively on the surface of the underworld, and conservative estimates suggest that this process can provide more than 1015g of ammonia per year to surface systems. Based on the above results, the researchers proposed that under the extensive serpentinization of the ancient surface of the underworld, hydrogen, methane and ammonia were produced in large quantities, forming amino acid soups under the action of lightning, which provided a suitable environment for the origin of life, which is of great significance for understanding early atmospheric evolution and pre-biosynthetic reactions. (Source: China Science News, Liao Yang, Wang Min)

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