Researchers at the University of Leeds may have solved a key puzzle about how objects from space could have kindled life on 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. But the fact that it developed simply, in conditions similar to the early Earth, suggests this could be the missing link between geology and biology,” said Dr Terry Kee, from the University’s School of Chemistry, who led the research.
To see whether pyrophosphite could have formed when meteorites landed on early Earth, Kee's team studied a Siberian meteorite that contained a lot of phosphorus. They incubated fragments of the meteorite in acidic water collected from volcanic ponds in Iceland, thought to be chemically similar to the water on primordial Earth. After four days in the water, the meteorite samples had released large quantities of phosphite. When this was dried out, it transformed into pyrophosphite (Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, doi.org/kzc). "We have shown that it's very easy to form," Kee says.