An international research group has shown that life’s first genetic material, RNA, forms on basalt lava glass. This glass was abundant on Earth 4.35 billion years ago, and basalt of this age is still found on Mars today. Also involved in the research was ELKH CSFK Research Professor Stephen Mogesses. This discovery was announced by the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution (FAME) on June 1, 2022.
Research led by Elisa Biondi has shown that long RNA molecules between 100 and 200 nucleotides long are created when a nucleoside triphosphate is simply filtered through basalt glass, which has been abundant on our planet for 4.35 billion years.
“At that time, basalt glass was found everywhere on Earth.” —Stephen Mojzsis, Professor of Earth Sciences Research at ELKH Astronomy and the Center for Geosciences Research (CSFK), who was also involved in the research, noted. “In the few hundred million years after the formation of the moon, repeated impacts, along with the abundant volcanic activity on the young planet, led to the formation of basalt lava, the basic material for basalt glass. Impacts helped the land masses to preserve the aquifers that could form It contains RNA.
The impacts also led to the production of nickel, which the research team showed last year to consist of a nucleoside triphosphate nucleoside and activated phosphate also found in lava glass. Borate minerals (such as borax) also aided in the formation of triphosphates from basalt. Borate also promotes the formation of ribose, the “R” member of RNA, starting with a simple carbohydrate that should have been present in the early Earth’s atmosphere. It fell from the atmosphere to the surface as rain, carrying with it organic minerals fixed with volcanic sulfur dioxide.
Impacting meteorites were crucial to the journey from simple organic molecules to the first RNA. The iron and nickel core of the influencing bodies changed the atmosphere in a way that became suitable for the creation of RNA bases. Their sequences store genetic information. The research group previously showed that nucleosides are formed by the interaction of ribose phosphate and RNA bases.
“This study identifies the entire path of RNA evolution from small organic molecules that almost certainly existed in the early Earth.” – notes Jan Špaček, who was not involved in this research, but is working to develop appropriate tools to search for Martian life.
“An important question remains: We still do not know how all the RNA building blocks took the same general shape, that is, what explains the homology.” Benner warns.
The role of Mars is significant in this declaration because the same minerals, glass, and influences were also present here in this era. However, Mars did not suffer from continental drifts and plate tectonic events that buried all the rocks older than 4 billion years on Earth. Thus, these related rocks are found on Mars today. Recently, all rocks have been found on Mars, including borates.
“If life had evolved in this simple way on Earth, it could have happened on Mars as well.” Banner said. “So the search for life on Mars as quickly as possible has become even more important.”
View search results Art article Published online in Astrobiology.