We don’t know where anything comes from. We’re a bunch of self-replicating bundles of confusion, completely unaware of how all this nonsense got here in the first place. We know life took a long and meandering road from the first single-celled organisms to your weird neighbor with way too many bumper stickers, but how did life get here in the first place? Possible answers to life’s origin include the heat and pressure of deep sea thermal vents, a jump-start by lightning strikes, and the structure of DNA falling into place on beds of clay (as boring as that is, many mythologies talk of humans created out of clay, probably because it’s poetic).
Another possible solution is that life was brought here from space by a comet or asteroid. There’s “panspermia,” the idea that Earth was seeded with life from another world. That’s a useless idea, because it just says that life can hop from rock to rock and doesn’t explain the genesis of it. That’s not the only space-centric proposal for the origin of life, however. New research from the University of Hawaii at Manoa provides “compelling evidence” that a key component of life—phosphorous oxoacids, building blocks of chromosomes and crucial for life’s ability to self replicate—came from outer space.
Up until this research, it was unclear how these crucial building blocks came to exist. According to this research, the conditions on a comet are just right for creating phosphorus oxoacids: deadly poisonous phosphine, ice and carbon dioxide, hurtling through the dark getting burned and warped by radiation. That’s a recipe for a delicious stew, right there.
The paper, published in the journal Nature Communications details an experiment in which the researchers recreated the conditions that one might find on a comet. They made some artificial space-ice and blasted it with the same types of radiation found outside the warm blanket of our atmosphere. This caused chemical reactions that ended up spitting out exactly what the researchers hoped to find: phosphorus oxoacids like those that make up chromosomes. Here’s the paper’s lead author Andrew Turner on the experiment:
“On Earth, phosphine is lethal to living beings, but in the interstellar medium, an exotic phosphine chemistry can promote rare chemical reaction pathways to initiate the formation of biorelevant molecules such as oxoacids of phosphorus, which eventually might spark the molecular evolution of life as we know it.”
Cornelia Meinert of the University of Nice in France, who collaborated on the work, elaborated:
“Since comets contain at least partially the remnants of the material of the protoplanetary disk that formed our solar system, these compounds might be traced back to the interstellar medium wherever sufficient phosphine in interstellar ices is available.”
If this is the true origin of life on Earth, it combines a lot of elements from other proposed theories. You’ve got the jump-starting from the sky like the lightning theory, the remote, exotic environment of the thermal vents, and hey, it would mean that at least part of life is extraterrestrial. A little something for everyone. Well, no. We all know what really happened. Say it with me: trans-dimensional, egg-laying bigfoot.