Credit: Dagmar Civisova
By Tanya Lewis
The origin of life on Earth about 4 billion years ago remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of science, but a new study is shedding light on the matter.
To recreate the conditions thought to exist on Earth when life began, scientists used a giant laser to ignite chemical reactions that converted a substance found on the early Earth into the molecular building blocks of DNA, the blueprint for life.
The findings not only offer support for theories of how life first formed, but could also aid in the search for signs of life elsewhere in the universe, the researchers said.
The beginning of life coincides with a hypothetical event that occurred 4 billion to 3.85 billion years ago, known as the Late Heavy Bombardment, in which asteroids pummeled Earth and the solar system’s other inner planets. These impacts may have provided the energy to jumpstart the chemistry of life, scientists say.
In 1952, the chemists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey conducted a famous experiment at the University of Chicago in which they simulated the conditions thought to be present on early Earth. This experiment was intended to show how the basic materials for life could be produced from nonliving matter.
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