Today, the colorless and deadly gas cyanide is known as a fast-acting poison and a chemical weapon. Four billion years ago, however, it may have been a harbinger of life. Chemists at Scripps Research have shown for the first time how cyanide could have enabled some of the earliest metabolic reactions to create carbon-based compounds from carbon dioxide. In addition to better understanding the evolution of life on Earth, this discovery gives scientists insight into the potential chemistry of life on other planets.Scripps Research Institute, “New role for cyanide in early Earth and search for extraterrestrial life” at ScienceDaily (February 3, 2022)
Note the “may have” and “could have been.” That’s where a lot of origin of life studies are, really. Nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as it is not mistaken for “the findings of science.” It’s speculation, pure and simple.
There is no way of proving beyond a doubt what chemistry occurred on the early Earth, he adds. But the discovery of the new set of reactions allows a new set of hypothetical conditions that might be compatible with life. And that has implications for the search for life — in our planet’s past and elsewhere.
“It frees us up from saying there must be these metals and these extreme conditions,” says Krishnamurthy. “There could be life that evolves from this cyanide-based chemistry.”Scripps Research Institute, “New role for cyanide in early Earth and search for extraterrestrial life” at ScienceDaily (February 3, 2022)
It would be a great hard sci-fi novel, maybe a flick. And fun for chemistry students!
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You may also wish to read: Did giant mountain ranges provide nutrients in early Earth’s history? According to the new thesis, the erosion of mountains provided nutrients that were hitherto unavailable, that helped life forms get started. Sounds like a rollout, actually.