June 8 (UPI) -- Before life began, Earth needed amino acids, the building blocks for proteins. New research suggests ancient asteroid impacts in Earth's primordial oceans could have produced the molecules needed to kick-start life.
In the lab, scientists used a stage propellant gun to simulate the violent impact featuring water and a variety of organic chemicals, including carbon dioxide, nitrogen and iron.
The experimental collisions yielded glycine and alanine, a pair of amino acids that form proteins. Proteins are the building blocks of life, as they drive many important biological reactions.
Scientists focused on carbon dioxide and nitrogen because most planetary models predict that two gases dominated the atmosphere on the Hadean Earth, some 4 billion years ago.
Researchers detailed the results of their experiments in a new paper published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports.
"Making organic molecules form reduced compounds like methane and ammonia are not difficult, but they are regarded as minor components in the atmosphere at that time," study co-author Yoshihiro Furukawa, researcher Tohoku University in Japan, said in a news release.
"The finding of amino acid formation from carbon dioxide and molecular nitrogen demonstrates the importance in making life's building blocks from these ubiquitous compounds," Furukawa said.
Interestingly, Mars also once hosted oceans. The Red Planet also featured large concentrations of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, raising the possibility that Mars hosted life a few billion years ago.
"Further investigations will reveal more about the role meteorites played in bringing more complex biomolecules to Earth and Mars," Furukawa said.