Little was known about a key element in the building blocks, phosphates, until now. University of Hawaii at Manoa researchers, in collaboration with colleagues in France and Taiwan, provide compelling new evidence that this component for life was found to be generated in outer space and delivered to Earth in its first one billion years by meteorites or comets. The phosphorus compounds were then incorporated in biomolecules found in cells in living beings on Earth.
The breakthrough research is outlined in “An Interstellar Synthesis of Phosphorus Oxoacids,” authored by UH Manoa graduate student Andrew Turner, now assistant professor at the University of Pikeville, and UH Manoa chemistry Professor Ralf Kaiser in the September issue of Nature Communications.
Kaiser added, “The phosphorus oxoacids detected in our experiments by combination of sophisticated analytics involving lasers, coupled to mass spectrometers along with gas chromatographs, might have also been formed within the ices of comets such as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which contains a phosphorus source believed to derive from phosphine.” Kaiser says these techniques can also be used to detect trace amounts of explosives and drugs.
“Since comets contain at least partially the remnants of the material of the protoplanetary disk that formed our solar system, these compounds might be traced back to the interstellar medium wherever sufficient phosphine in interstellar ices is available,” said Cornelia Meinert of the University of Nice (France).
Upon delivery to Earth by meteorites or comets, these phosphorus oxoacids might have been available for Earth’s prebiotic phosphorus chemistry. Hence an understanding of the facile synthesis of these oxoacids is essential to untangle the origin of water-soluble prebiotic phosphorus compounds and how they might have been incorporated into organisms not only on Earth, but potentially in our universe as well. Paper. (open access) – Andrew M. Turner, Alexandre Bergantini, Matthew J. Abplanalp, Cheng Zhu, Sándor Góbi, Bing-Jian Sun, Kang-Heng Chao, Agnes H. H. Chang, Cornelia Meinert, Ralf I. Kaiser. An interstellar synthesis of phosphorus oxoacids. Nature Communications, 2018; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-06415-7 More.
Our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon thinks that the idea that building blocks of life came from space is plausible and should be demonstrable. On the other hand, this story contains a lot of “mights.” Let it cool first.
See also: New paper: Cambrian explosion driven by viruses from space
Skeptic: Panspermia (life came from elsewhere than Earth) is “pseudoscience”
Panspermia (maybe life came from outer space) is back, in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology
That panspermia paper at Progress in Biophysics & Molecular Biology generated some heat: Links and analysis
What we know and don’t know about the origin of life
2 Replies to ““Compelling new evidence” claimed for comets generating phosphates for earliest life”
“these compounds might be traced back to the interstellar medium wherever sufficient phosphine in interstellar ices is available”
OK, and since Earth (and the Sun) itself was formed from the SAME “interstellar medium”, Earth undoubtedly had phosphates as part of its original mix of chemicals. Comets might have added MORE phosphate, but of course Jupiter and its moons should have more total phosphates than Earth. So why isn’t Jupiter brimming with Life?
I’m also gonna guess that “by chance”, the Moon kindly donated ALL of its phosphates during the collision where it donated its iron core to ensure Earth would be protected by the van Allen Belts.
I guess astrogeologists have to do SOMETHING to justify their paychecks. But I don’t see any reason to get excited about a theory that adds 1% or 2% to the total.
Oh, similarly, we now KNOW that Earth’s water was ALWAYS here. It was NOT delivered by comets to a barren surface. So logically the comets delivering phosphates only added some teeny percent.
Wow. Scientists have “Compelling New Evidence” for how life started on earth.
Phosphates on comets!!!
Well, okay. To be fair, that might explain how we got Tide* detergent.
After all, if you mix phosphates and some other chemicals
you do get Tide*.
But before anyone (who isn’t milking Uncle Sam’s NSF gravy train) pops the champagne, you should wait until Scientists show that if you mix phosphates and some other chemicals you can get a Living Organism**.
Anyhow, those Scientists at Manoa Hawaii and their colleagues in France and Taiwan, hyping their nothing-burgers to keep the gravy flowing, aren’t they a howl?
*Registered trademark of the Proctor and Gamble Company.
**not a registered trademark