Ponds Might Have Been The Places Where Life on Earth Began, And Not the Oceans


Primitive ponds may have a more appropriate environment for the birth of early life on Earth than the oceans for the shallow bodies of water might have contained high concentrations of nitrogen, the key ingredient for developing life on Earth, scientists believe.

A new study has been conducted by Sukrit Ranjan, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), and the overall information is that the origin of life could hardly happen in the ocean as the belief that it required fixed nitrogen doesn’t match with the newly discovered facts.

There are two possible scenarios in which primitive life could be shown to appear from a key reaction involving nitrogen: the first theory concerns the depths of the ocean, where nitrogen as nitrogenous oxides could have reacted with carbon dioxide fizzing forward from hydrothermal vents​ to create life’s first microscopic organism blocks.

The second nitrogen-based theory involves ribonucleic acid​ (RNA), a molecule which helps encode our genetic information today. RNA could have been chemically forced to form the first molecular signs of life by entering contact with nitrogenous oxides​. The process of RNA construction could have formed in both oceans or clear lakes and ponds.

Nitrogenous oxides​ were most probably settled in bodies of water (both oceans and ponds) as remaining fragments of the breakdown of nitrogen in Earth’s air. Atmospheric nitrogen is composed of two nitrogen molecules connected by a strong triple bond that can only be cut by an intense, energetic event, more exactly lightning.

Ponds might have been the places where early life on Earth began, and not the oceans

Lightning generates enough energy to break that triple bond in the atmospheric nitrogen gas which then produces nitrogenous oxides ​that fall down into the water bodies, Ranjan said. He and his team researched through scientific literature and found out that nitrogenous oxides ​in water can be broken down by interactions with the sun’s ultraviolet light, as well as with dissolved iron shredded from first oceanic rocks.

Ultraviolet light and dissolved iron would have made nitrogenous oxides​ much less available for incorporating living organisms in the oceans. However, in empty ponds, life would have had a higher chance, primarily because ponds have far fewer volume over which compounds can be reduced. Therefore, nitrogenous oxides would have developed to higher consolidations in ponds than in oceans.

The shallower the pond, the better chance nitrogenous oxides would have had to communicate with other molecules, especially RNA, to assemble the first living organisms, Ranjan says. Ponds might not look like an essential body of water, but researchers say that’s precisely the point: nitrogenous oxides would have been too thinned in any other larger or deeper places, making impossible any attendance in origin-of-life- chemistry.

Whether life originated in ponds or oceans is yet left to be an open debate, but Ranjin says the new study generates enough plausible piece of evidence. The Simons Foundation and MIT partially supported the research.


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