Science & Technology

Scientists recreate building blocks of life

NASA researchers recreate amino acids in lab as it may have formed billions of years ago

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 26 February 2019
Representational Photo: Getty Images
Representational Photo: Getty Images Representational Photo: Getty Images

In a first, scientists have attempted to trace back the origin of life by reproducing amino acids, that could have formed 4 billion years ago deep inside the oceans, in the lab.

The researchers — astrobiologist Laurie Barge and her team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California — are studying how life originated on Earth to understand how it may evolve elsewhere in space.

Single-celled micro-organisms lacking a cell nucleus, known as prokaryotes that lived in extremely high temperatures, are speculated to have first originated on Earth four billion years ago.

Amino acids, on the other hand, are organic compounds that combine to form proteins — something found in all living organisms. These are formed around hydrothermal vents placed deep inside the oceans. The vents release geothermally heated fluids, which create a flux when it interacts with seawater.  

It is under these dark and warm conditions, coupled with chemical energy, that life first evolved on Earth. The researchers, hence, aim to find how similar conditions may facilitate life on interstellar bodies placed far away from the Sun.  

For the research, the team recreated the hydrothermal vents and other components present in the oceans billion of years ago. “We’ve shown that in geological conditions similar to early Earth, and maybe to other planets, we can form amino acids and alpha hydroxy acids from a simple reaction under mild conditions that would have existed on the seafloor,” Barge said in a press note.

“Understanding how far you can go with just organics and minerals before you have an actual cell is really important for understanding what types of environments life could emerge from,” she added.

The research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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