Chemists see clues to early Earth life

April 4, 2013 at 8:06 PM

LEEDS, England, April 4 (UPI) -- Chemists in Britain say they may have solved a key puzzle about how objects from space could have been responsible for kindling life on Earth.

Scientist have long held that it is possible some important ingredients for life came from meteorites bombarding the early Earth, but the exact process of how inanimate rock transformed into the building blocks of life has proved elusive.

Researchers at Leeds University say their studies suggest a chemical "battery" -- similar to one now found in all living cells and vital for generating the energy that makes something alive -- may have been created when meteorites containing phosphorus minerals landed in hot, acidic pools of liquids around volcanoes common across the early Earth.

"The mystery of how living organisms sprung out of lifeless rock has long puzzled scientists, but we think that the unusual phosphorus chemicals we found could be a precursor to the batteries that now power all life on Earth," Leeds chemist Terry Kee said.

Reacting with the acidic fluid found around volcanoes, the phosphorus could have formed a compound leading to what researchers have dubbed "chemical life."

"Chemical life would have been the intermediary step between inorganic rock and the very first living biological cell," Kee said. "With the aid of these primitive batteries, chemicals became organized in such a way as to be capable of more complex behavior and would have eventually developed into the living biological structures we see today."

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