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Mars would have been better host for life to originate than Earth


March 16, 2012 - Washington

The conditions required for life to start may have been much better on Mars than early Earth, a new study has suggested.

Some scientists believe that early Earth was flooded with too much water for the chemistry of life to gain a foothold.

Without at least occasional dry land, the chemistry needed to get life started doesn't work very well because the molecules to support genetics, such as RNA, are chemically unstable in many ways, especially in water, the Discovery News reported.

This crops-up a problem, as life, at least as we know it today, apparently requires water.

"How is it possible that the chemicals that we now have supporting modern life, which is so unstable in water, could have arisen in water?" biochemist Steven Benner, head of the Foundation For Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainsville, Fla. said.

The answer could be that life evolved in places that seldom dried out.

"You can get RNA and its building blocks to be stable in an Earth-like environment, provided you put them into some environment that is deficient in water," Benner said, pointing to a place like Death Valley, where there is intermittent rainfall to provide organic compounds from the atmosphere as well as cycles of dryness.

"If you get building blocks for RNA, you get genetics and you're off to the races. You've got life," Benner said.

However, the scientists who model what early Earth was like believe the planet was devoid of dry spots.

"If Earth had two or three times the amount of water that it has now, there'd be no dry land sticking up," geophysicist Norman Sleep with Stanford University, said.

The nearest place that fits the bill is the Red Planet. Even though it is dry today, Mars is believed to have had liquid surface water in the past, albeit never in the amounts found on Earth.

"On Mars, you can have all of the chemistry that we would have wanted to have without having to worry about Mars being a waterworld," Benner said.

Life also could have evolved more rapidly there than on Earth because Mars is smaller, cooled faster and did not have its surface vaporized in a huge collision that formed a moon.

It also was more guarded against asteroid bombardments than Earth.

"Mars was open for habitation before the 'For Rent' sign goes up on the Earth," Sleep said.

"The old geological record from 4 billion years ago is still present on Mars, so ironically life originating on Mars is more testable than anything on the Earth," Sleep added.

The study is being published in the Journal of American Chemical Society.

ANI

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