Did life on Earth start on Mars? A scientist lays out the evidence

0

Did life as we know it start on Mars? Are we all Martians? These are the questions some serious scientists are considering.


Speaking at an international conference of geochemists, chemist Steven Benner of the Westheimer Institute of Science and Technology argued Thursday that early Mars provided a more hospitable environment for life to spring up than early Earth.

"The evidence seems to be building that we are actually Martians; that life started on Mars and came to Earth on a rock," he said in a statement.

Scientists generally agree that earliest life took the form of an RNA molecule that could create other RNA molecules based on the same template.

The trouble is, no one has been able to satisfactorily explain how the original "living" bit of RNA formed. 

As anyone who has cooked down sugar knows, simply adding energy to organic molecules and then leaving them alone doesn't get you life — it usually gets you a sticky mixture that Benner describes as "better suited for paving roads than supporting Darwinian evolution."

Written By: Deborah Netburn
continue to source article at latimes.com

NO COMMENTS

  1. Doesn’t the fact that there are no signs of life existing on Mars now or ever offer a pretty compelling counter argument? One thing we’ve learned is that life is pretty resilient, once it gets started it can last in some very inhospitable environments. So the fact that we haven’t found any trace of life or anything that offers compelling evidence that life existed there at some time seems to me to be a huge problem with the argument.

    I’m also skeptical of these kinds of arguments in general. They take what is already a very hard problem (how did life first get started on Earth) cherry pick a few difficult sub-problems with one possible explanation and then say that those hard problems wouldn’t have been so hard if life started on Mars. Maybe so but there are all sorts of other hard problems that we probably haven’t even thought of because people haven’t given the life from Mars hypothesis as much study as the life originating on Earth hypothesis.

    I also would consider that some of the people promoting this hypothesis have a bias to want to find life on Mars or that human life originated on Mars. Such a finding, even an active hypothesis that requires investigation, can be used by NASA and aerospace contractors to gen up support for more funding. BTW, I’m for more NASA funding, its just that as a critical thinker we need to consider bias and agendas when looking at at a theory.

    • In reply to #2 by Red Dog:

      Doesn’t the fact that there are no signs of life existing on Mars now or ever offer a pretty compelling counter argument? One thing we’ve learned is that life is pretty resilient, once it gets started it can last in some very inhospitable environments. So the fact that we haven’t found any trace of…

      Well there is some possible evidence, methane plumes on Mars which is supposedly geologically active, either it is not geologically active (interesting) or there is sudterrainian life (interesting) or there is some otherwise unknown source of methane possible (also interesting), Additionally these plumes are seasonal. There are possible fossilized bacteria in meterorites. There is Gypsum on the surface, needs water, and clear evidence of running water. So it is an excellent hypothesis, worth investigating. The other consideration is the impact on possibly finding another life form in the solar system. If we did it would certainly make life appear more statistically more likely everywhere. If it shared our DNA and could be established our world was seeded by Mars that would be very significant especially in terms of knocking about our humancentric view from all the creation myths. Genisis is impossible to reconcile with life not being created here on Earth (although I’m sure they’d give it a damn good try).

      I’m with you that it is possible that other ideas possibly not going to be investigated while this is. However presumably it is being investigated by people who are interested in it, in Mars, if not looking for life on Mars there is no guarentee they would be looking for life on Earth anyway. I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time. Perhaps we should be more critical of the amount of money we squander on fighting wars and wasting the carrers of bright scientists of finding greater and quicker ways of killing each other.

      • In reply to #12 by Reckless Monkey:

        Well there is some possible evidence, methane plumes on Mars which is supposedly geologically active, either it is not geologically active (interesting) or there is sudterrainian life (interesting) or there is some otherwise unknown source of methane possible (also interesting), Additionally these plumes are seasonal.

        Seasonal venting of gasses from the surface and subsurface is to be expected. There is a massive seasonal sublimation from polar H2O and CO2 ice-cap deposits, which is what drives the dust storms as the winds carry the gasses bearing dust from one hemisphere to the other, where they then snow-out at the opposite pole.

  2. “Doesn’t the fact that there are no signs of life existing on Mars now or ever offer a pretty compelling counter argument?”

    Although the surface of Mars is mapped better than the bottom of most oceans, we still haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of looking for any life that has or even still lives on or below its surface so it sounds to me you are almost convinced looking for even single cellular life may be fruitless.

    Considering the most basic forms of life on this planet can and do live in some of the most ridiculously harsh places that seem unthinkable to support life, should fill you with some optimism for finding an organism on Mars to maybe one day confirm the ideas above.

    I think you’re jumping the gun a little…

  3. Just as long as we keep asking the questions it’ll be okay, but if we stop doing so we’ll never know, and of course we may never know in any case, but I think that that’s less important than continuing to enquire.

  4. Really, where it started is not nearly as interesting as how it started. Mars just adds an unnecessary layer of complexity to the problem. Maybe it went from an asteroid to Mars to Earth. Maybe it came to the asteroid from elsewhere- an endless regress. I think the answers will be found here in a lab.

    • In reply to #5 by rjohn19:

      I think the answers will be found here in a lab

      I think the answers will be found where the answers lie. Which could be on our planet or elsewhere or a bit of both. The idea is to keep looking and not arbitrarily limit the scope of our search.

  5. In an email to the Los Angeles Times, Chris McKay, a scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, said this part of Benner’s hypothesis is not as simple as Benner suggests.

    While McKay agrees that molybdenum needs oxygen, and that most of the early Earth did not have oxygen, he believes there were areas of the Earth that did have some oxygen.

    While I think the possibility of abiogenesis on early Mars is a possible plausible speculation, it seems to me that the passage on a meteroite to Earth is likely to be more destructive of life than any of the postulated adverse conditions on early Earth!

  6. How does moving the problem of creation of RNA to Mars help explain how it happened? All I can see is it buys you a little extra time.

    The fact that is seems to happen so quickly suggests either the universe is full of “dandelion” seeds or that chemistry automatically exudes life when some particular set of not that rare conditions occurs.

    • In reply to #8 by Agrajag:

      Why do I think that is an image of Earth’s moon? ;-)

      Mars was cratered by being bombarded with the same cascade of organically primed meteorites from the outer Solar System, which bombarded the Moon and Earth around 1.9 billion years ago. If has been cratered a bit more since.

  7. Did life on Earth start on Mars? A scientist lays out the evidence

    It’s not evidence of a Martian origin; it’s arguments from the difficulty (according to the speaker) of an Earth origin.

    Scientists generally agree that earliest life took the form of an RNA molecule that could create other RNA molecules based on the same template.

    I’d love to know what percentage of abiogenesis scientists have accepted the RNA world option, as opposed to the various alternatives or saying we’re unsure. But even if it’s high, the argument goes as this. “An RNA Earth origin is hard; therefore let’s believe in a Martian origin, as opposed to an Earth origin of some other type.”

    The trouble is, no one has been able to satisfactorily explain how the original “living” bit of RNA formed. As anyone who has cooked down sugar knows, simply adding energy to organic molecules and then leaving them alone doesn’t get you life — it usually gets you a sticky mixture that Benner describes as “better suited for paving roads than supporting Darwinian evolution.”

    This is dangerously close to an argument that creationists use.

    Earth was covered in water at the time that life was supposed to be forming, and though water is essential to life as we know it, it is also corrosive to biopolymers such as RNA and DNA

    The world wasn’t wet everywhere. Some abiogenesis models posit the chemistry began in rocks.

    Next, compare this:

    boron and an oxidized mineral form of the element molybdenum can keep organic material from turning into tar, and may be essential for allowing life to form. Those two elements were probably not found on early Earth, because there wasn’t enough oxygen on our planet at the time and it wasn’t dry enough, he said, but they could have been found on early Mars, which did have oxygen and which was more arid.

    With McKay’s rebuttal:

    The abiotic production of atmospheric oxidants could have provided a mechanism by which locally oxidizing conditions were sustained within spatially confined habitats… So molybdenum may have been available on the early Earth just locally not globally

    So it’s the same objection I made above: just because a set of conditions is prevalent, it doesn’t mean a different set of conditions occurred nowhere.

    A Mars start for life might also solve the water paradox, he said, because back when life was first forming, Mars had areas of dry land and areas covered by water. Indeed, NASA’s Curiosity rover has found evidence of water on Mars and evidence that the planet was once hospitable for life.

    So the argument is, “Earth and Mars each had the right conditions in some places, but let’s ignore the Earth examples and favour the Mars ones”.

    [Benner] did provide evidence to support his theory.

    You can’t call it evidence just because it’s such a bad argument it proves nothing.

Leave a Reply