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The earliest life on earth may have evolved in phosphorus-rich lakes

The earliest signs of life on Earth may have evolved in lakes that are high in phosphorus because of the amount of carbon in the water, a study shows.

Researchers from the University of Washington investigated water from carbon-rich lakes, including Lake Mono in California and Lonar Lake in India.

Life as we know it requires phosphorus, it is one of the six most important chemical elements of life and is the backbone of DNA and RNA molecules, but it is a rare mineral.

This has led scientists to think for 50 years about how an early lifeless earth could produce enough phosphorus to generate life.

This new study claims that the solution lies in the fact that high levels of phosphorus in carbon-rich lakes allow phosphate molecules to remain unbound, leading to chemical reactions that resulted in early DNA and RNA strands.

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Today, these carbonate-rich lakes are biologically rich and support life ranging from microbes to the famous flamingos of Lake Magadi.

Today, these carbonate-rich lakes are biologically rich and support life ranging from microbes to the famous flamingos of Lake Magadi.

The team focused on lakes that form in dry environments as part of the research. Teas lakes have high evaporation rates that lead to saline and alkaline solutions.

Such lakes, also known as alkaline or soda lakes, can be found on all seven continents.

They looked at phosphate measurements at Mono Lake in California, Lake Magadi in Kenya and Lonar Lake in India – all carbon-rich bodies of water.

The high phosphorus concentrations indicate the existence of a common, natural mechanism that accumulates the mineral in these lakes, researchers say.

Researchers from the University of Washington investigated water from carbon-rich lakes, including Lake Mono in California and Lonar Lake in India

Researchers from the University of Washington investigated water from carbon-rich lakes, including Lake Mono in California and Lonar Lake in India

Researchers from the University of Washington investigated water from carbon-rich lakes, including Lake Mono in California and Lonar Lake in India

Mono Lake in Eastern California has no outflow, so salt can accumulate over time. The high salts in this carbonate-rich lake can become pillars.

Today, these carbonate-rich lakes are biologically rich and support life ranging from microbes to the famous flamingos of Lake Magadi.

Living things influence the chemistry of the lake, so to get a better idea of ​​what the early lake water would have looked like, they looked at carbon-rich water separately in the laboratory.

They experimented with bottles of carbonate-rich water in various chemical compositions to understand how the lakes accumulate phosphorus and how high phosphorus concentrations could end up in a lifeless environment.

Colored dots show the phosphorus content measured in various carbonate-rich lakes around the world. Existing carbonate-rich lakes can contain up to 50,000 times the phosphate content in seawater, with the highest levels measured in the Goodenough and Last Chance lake system of British Columbia (yellow dots)

Colored dots show the phosphorus content measured in various carbonate-rich lakes around the world. Existing carbonate-rich lakes can contain up to 50,000 times the phosphate content in seawater, with the highest levels measured in the Goodenough and Last Chance lake system of British Columbia (yellow dots)

Colored dots show the phosphorus content measured in various carbonate-rich lakes around the world. Existing carbonate-rich lakes can contain up to 50,000 times the phosphate content in seawater, with the highest levels measured in the Goodenough and Last Chance lake system of British Columbia (yellow dots)

In most lakes, calcium, which is much richer on earth, binds to phosphorus to make solid calcium phosphate minerals, to which life has no access.

In carbonate-rich waters, the carbonate phosphate competes to bind with calcium, which means that part of the phosphate is not stuck, the team found.

“It’s a simple idea, which is attractive,” said Toner. “It solves the phosphate problem in an elegant and plausible way.”

The team also discovered that phosphate levels can rise to a million times in seawater when lake water evaporates during dry seasons.

Lonar Lake in India is also known as the Lonar crater and a national geo-heritage monument. It was created by an asteroid collision with the Earth during the Pleistocene era

Lonar Lake in India is also known as the Lonar crater and a national geo-heritage monument. It was created by an asteroid collision with the Earth during the Pleistocene era

Lonar Lake in India is also known as the Lonar crater and a national geo-heritage monument. It was created by an asteroid collision with the Earth during the Pleistocene era

“High levels of phosphate would have caused reactions that put phosphorus in the molecular building blocks of RNA, proteins, and fats, all of which were needed to get life started,” said co-author David Catling.

The team said that the carbon dioxide-rich air on the early earth would have been ideal for creating this kind of lakes about four billion years ago.

“The early earth was a volcanically active site, so you would have had a lot of fresh volcanic rock that reacts with carbon dioxide and carbonate and supplies phosphorus to lakes,” Toner said.

“The early earth may have been home to many carbonate-rich lakes that would have had enough phosphorus concentrations to get things going.”

Mono Lake in Eastern California has no outflow, so salt can accumulate over time. The high salts in this carbonate-rich lake can become pillars

Mono Lake in Eastern California has no outflow, so salt can accumulate over time. The high salts in this carbonate-rich lake can become pillars

Mono Lake in Eastern California has no outflow, so salt can accumulate over time. The high salts in this carbonate-rich lake can become pillars

A previous study by the same team showed that the lakes can also provide abundant cyanide to support the formation of amino acids and nucleotides.

Previously, researchers struggled to find a natural environment with enough cyanide to support an origin of life.

“Cyanide is toxic to humans, but not to primitive microbes, and is crucial to the kind of chemistry that easily makes the building blocks of life,” said Dr. Toner.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

WHAT WAS THE ‘CAMBRICAL EXPLOSION’?

Scientists have long speculated that a large oxygen peak during the ‘Cambric explosion’ was the key to the development of many species of animals.

The Cambrian explosion, about 541 million years ago, was a period in which a wide variety of animals saved the evolutionary scene.

Before about 580 million years ago, most organisms were simple, composed of individual cells that were occasionally organized into colonies.

In the following 70 or 80 million years, the pace of evolution accelerated and the diversity of life began to resemble that of today.

It ended with the Cambrian Ordovician extinction event about 488 million years ago.

A new study has linked the historical increase in oxygen responsible for the formation of animal life on Earth to fossil fuels. Image: This black shale, formed 450 million years ago, contains fossils of trilobites and other organic material that has helped this increase in oxygen

A new study has linked the historical increase in oxygen responsible for the formation of animal life on Earth to fossil fuels. Image: This black shale, formed 450 million years ago, contains fossils of trilobites and other organic material that has helped this increase in oxygen

A recent study linked the historical increase in oxygen responsible for the formation of animal life on Earth to fossil fuels. Pictured: This black slate, formed 450 million years ago, contains fossils of trilobites and organic material that helped support them in oxygen

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