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How did early life on Earth start? It could have been lightning, study says

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An artist's rendition of the early Earth environment. Lightning generated by storms and volcanic plumes frequently strikes volcanic rocks. The lightning strikes create fulgurites which contain phosphorus in a form that can be dissolved in water and concentrate in waters like volcanic ponds. Here, the phosphorus is able to form biomolecules which help lead to the emergence of life.
  • The emergence of life on Earth was dependent on a precise cocktail of critical ingredients, one of which is phosphorus.
  • Prior to this study, it had been thought that meteorites provided the needed ingredients for life on Earth to begin.
  • This also shows that life could develop on Earth-like planets through the same mechanism at any time.

Lightning strikes could have sparked life on the early Earth, a new study suggests.

According to the research, billions of years ago, the bolts blasting into Earth would have unlocked the necessary minerals for the basis of life to begin.

“This work helps us understand how life may have formed on Earth and how it could still be forming on other, Earth-like planets,” said study lead author Benjamin Hess of Yale University.

The emergence of life on Earth was dependent on a precise cocktail of critical ingredients, one of which is phosphorus, a key component of DNA, RNA and cell membranes. 

Phosphorus is essential to life and plays a key role in all life processes from movement to growth and reproduction. 

“Specifically, phosphorus forms the backbone of the double helix structure of DNA and RNA, and phosphorus is part of the lipid layers which make up the cell wall, or membrane. So, phosphorus is needed for molecules that form basic cell structures and control key cell functions like reproduction,” Hess told USA TODAY.

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