- 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.
Prior to this study, it had been thought that meteorites provided the needed ingredients for life on Earth to begin.
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“In our work, we show that based on the best of our knowledge of early Earth, lightning probably provided as much or more reactive phosphorus than meteorites did around the time of the origin of life,” Hess said.
The lightning strikes created fulgurites, which are tubes of glass formed by the fusion of quartz sand or rock from a lightning strike, according to the Utah Geological Survey. Their shape mimics the path of the lightning bolt as it disperses into the ground.
All lightning strikes that hit the ground are capable of forming fulgurites.
The new study found that fulgurites contain phosphorus in a form that can be dissolved in water and concentrate in waters like volcanic ponds. The phosphorus is able to form biomolecules which help lead to the emergence of life.
This also shows that life could develop on Earth-like planets through the same mechanism at any time if atmospheric conditions are right.
“Lightning strikes Earth frequently, implying that the phosphorus needed for the origin of life on Earth’s surface does not rely solely on meteorite hits,” Hess said.
The new study was published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Communications.