According to a new study by a team of Canadian and German scholars at McMaster University and the Max Planck Institute, life began in small lakes and warm pools on the surface of the Earth. This contradicts previous theory that suggested that life began in the seas.

This theory is not new. Charles Darwin introduced it in 1871 in a letter to a fellow colleague. He argued that ‘some warm little pond with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity etcetera present’ created the perfect conditions for life to evolve.

There is an impressive array of studies wishing to find an answer. The idea that life came in the vicinity of volcanoes at the bottom of the sea formed into a theory that was embraced by many scientists. Now, this theory may be overturned by the new study, which confirms the Darwinian theory suggesting that the first life forms occurred in small warm pools rich in ammonia, phosphorus, light and electricity.

Thomas Henning, co-author of this study, said that before understanding the origin of life, we need to understand our plant as it was billions of years ago. The author believes that astronomy provides a vital part of the answer to this problem. Details of the formation of the solar system have direct consequences to the origin of life.

How life on Earth was formed

Nowadays life is thought to have occurred 3.7 billion years ago, when small-sized meteors having no more than 20 centimeters hit the planet. These rocks contained ammonia and hydrogen cyanide, the compounds needed to create RNA. The research suggest that RNA molecules have formed this way.

When the pools were drowning, they formed the “primordial soup”. The molecules formed long chains, which were then stored in the next long phase. Chains of RNA have become longer over time, with these wet-dry cycles.

In some cases, favorable conditions led the molecule chains to bend and overlap with themselves, thus spontaneously replicating. These molecules have been the first genetic code for life on Earth.

Also, researchers in this study contradict the rival theory that life comes from the sea bottom, near active volcanoes, claiming that wet-dry cycles are needed to lead to RNA formation.

The authors want to experimentally test this theory next year. They want to simulate these conditions in a controlled environment, thus trying to create artificial life.

Charles Darwin writing to Joseph Hooker back in 1871:

“It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present, which could ever have been present. But if (and oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, &c., present, that a proteine [sic] compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were found.”

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