As the science budget axe swings: In “Did life on Earth actually come from the Red Planet?” (MSNBC.com,, March 15, 2012), Irene Klotz reports, “Mars is dry now, but it might have been more habitable than our planet billions of years ago”:
“How is it possible that the chemicals that we now have supporting modern life, which is so unstable in water, could have arisen in water?” biochemist Steven Benner, head of the Foundation For Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainsville, Fla., told Discovery News.
The answer could be that life evolved in places that occasionally dried out.
“You can get RNA and its building blocks to be stable in an Earth-like environment, provided you put them into some environment that is deficient in water,” Benner said, pointing to a place like Death Valley, where there is intermittent rainfall to provide organic compounds from the atmosphere as well as cycles of dryness.
We are told that Mars, in the past, sometimes had liquid water.
The theory is just that, a theory; it doesn’t arise out of fresh new evidence. And when we read,
“The old geological record from 4 billion years ago is still present on Mars, so ironically life originating on Mars is more testable than anything on the Earth,” Sleep said.
, … it’s hard to believe that this story is not part of an effort to get the US government to reverse its decision to slash funding for Mars exploration programs.
The subtle message here is obviously that the science community gets better mileage out of Mars exploration than out of origin of life research. In principle, that’s likely true; in practice, a funds-strappped government would surely find it easier to toss a few mil to some no-win research proposition on Earth, to please science-friendly voters, than dozens of bil to a no-win proposition on Mars where – whatever else there may be – there are no voters period.