New study supports idea that life on Earth originated on Mars

According to a new study, if a random chunk of rock hadn't been blasted off of the planet Mars to eventually land here on Earth, life on our planet would look very different than it does today, or it may not have developed here at all.

The idea that life on Earth originated from elsewhere certainly isn't new. For years now, the case has been building that either the building blocks of life, or actual primitive forms of life, were deposited here by comet or meteorite impacts. According to biochemist Steven Benner, who presented his research at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference yesterday, there's strong evidence to say that, at the time that life developed, around 3 billion years ago, Mars had the right combination of dry land, oceans and oxygen in its atmosphere for life to form. Earth, on the other hand, was likely completely covered in water and had very little oxygen in its atmosphere.

Benner, who has dedicated his research to studying the origins of life, says that in order for organic compounds to form life, they need to have oxygen and very specific minerals. Without those minerals, putting organic compounds together usually just results in tar.

"Certain elements seem able to control the propensity of organic materials to turn to tar, particularly boron and molybdenum, so we believe that minerals containing both were fundamental to life first starting."

"It's only when molybdenum becomes highly oxidized that it is able to influence how early life formed," Benner said, according to Space.com. "This form of molybdenum couldn't have been available on Earth at the time life first began, because 3 billion years ago, the surface of the Earth had very little oxygen, but Mars did."

Earth's planet-wide ocean apparently would have also prevented boron from accumulating, and boron is essential for the formation of RNA, which was probably the very first genetic material formed (even before DNA). However, a meteorite found in Antarctica a few years ago, which was identified as being from Mars, was found to have boron in it, and Benner says: "we now believe that the oxidized form of molybdenum was there, too."

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Does this mean that we're all Martians?

There's no conclusive evidence yet, but it's possible. The primitive forms of life that we evolved from may have started out on Mars first, and then, only after Earth had developed a more hospitable environment, it made the journey here on a meteorite that was blasted off of the Red Planet by an impact or massive volcanic eruption. If there was life here on Earth at the time, that might have even been the 'Martian Invasion' that science fiction has portrayed so many times, as the (probably more developed) life from Mars took over.

(Image courtesy: Wikipedia)

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