Dramatic Discovery on the Origins of Life

Life may have started in sea spray, scientists believe, after their 'dramatic discovery' that the building blocks for all living things emerge spontaneously when water droplets meet air.


Ocean wave breaking over some rocks

For more than a century, scientists have puzzled over how simple molecules and amino acids found throughout the universe could have sparked into life.


Charles Darwin suggested early chemicals were knitted together in “warm little ponds” while other researchers speculated that lightning strikes could have triggered life-inducing chemical reactions.


But now, experts at Purdue University in the US have found a simpler explanation. Where perturbed water droplets meet air, rapid reactions can take place, transforming amino acids into peptides, the precursors of proteins that evolve to form living cells.


Places where sea spray flies into the air and waves pound the land, or where fresh water burbles down a slope, were all fertile landscapes for the evolution of life, the scientists believe.


“This is essentially the chemistry behind the origin of life,” said Prof Graham Cooks, of Purdue’s College of Science.


“This is the first demonstration that primordial molecules, simple amino acids, spontaneously form peptides, the building blocks of life, in droplets of pure water. This is a dramatic discovery.”


The discovery was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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