Key elements unlocking the origins of life have been discovered in water

The fountain of life has been found within chemical reactions in droplets of water.
Brittney Grimes
Drop of water.
Drop of water.


Researchers from Purdue University in Indiana may have found the fountain of life in the simplest of places — it could be found in our water.

Life formation within oceans

The research team uncovered building blocks of life in droplets of water. “This is essentially the chemistry behind the origin of life,” said R. Graham Cooks, the Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished professor of Analytical Chemistry at Purdue's College of Science.

The chemists believe they have come across specific chemical reactions in droplets containing water. This study could lead to creating drugs to cure certain illnesses and diseases. The discovery from this study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Origin of life theory paradox

For many decades, the theory for the origin of life on Earth was believed to begin in the oceans. There was a contradiction within this often-stated belief. Although life origination did require water, it also needed and required the “loss of a water molecule” and space away from water. Therefore, life formation could not take place with a place fully immersed in water. However, this study explains the dilemma.

“This is the first demonstration that primordial molecules, simple amino acids, spontaneously form peptides, the building blocks of life, in droplets of pure water,” said Cooks.

The raw amino acids were delivered to Earth daily by meteorites. These amino acids were then thought to transform into the building blocks of life, according to the study.

Speed of chemical reactions

The research team spent more than 10 years studying chemical reactions in droplets containing water using mass spectrometers. They noted the speed of the chemical reactions that were taking place, therefore making evolution of life possible, the scientists mentioned.

"The rates of reactions in droplets are anywhere from a hundred to a million times faster than the same chemicals reacting in bulk solution," Cooks said. It was also stated that the research proved that the chemical reactions needed to create peptides, the building blocks for life, could form in these small droplets of water.

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The need for water, but also a dry environment

The enigma in of itself is that there needs to be a dry surface to allow the reactions to occur. Cooks said in the study that his team has found an answer to the paradoxical statement that “Water isn’t wet everywhere.”

In a press release, the research team explains “The rates of these reactions make catalysts unnecessary, speeding up the reactions and, in the case of early Earth chemistry, making the evolution of life possible.”

Search for life on other planets based on the origins of life on Earth

The discovery of how life began on Earth could help scientists comprehend why it happened and further assist in the search for life on other planets or even moons. “Understanding how amino acids built themselves up into proteins and, eventually, life-forms revolutionize scientists’ understanding of chemical synthesis,” the study states.

The research provides evidence for the origin of life on Earth, but also the possible existence of life within the universe.

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