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Scientists Mimic Possible Origins of Life in the Lab



Hydrothermal vents, where the planet's heat seeps out into the deep ocean through the cracks in the Earth's crust, are candidates for where life may have started . So, scientists are eager to bring the vents into the lab.

That's exactly what a team of scientists did in a suite of experiments, described in a recent paper. The research aims to better understand how building blocks of life may or may not have formed in these systems.

"We do not know", "we do not know", "we don", "we don", " "There is a concrete evidence of life elsewhere yet," Laurie Barge, an astrobiologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and lead author on the new study, said in a NASA statement .

So, Barge and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments designed to investigate the exact conditions under which amino acids the building blocks of proteins, could form in these systems. To do this, the researchers created miniature hydrothermal-vent structures trapped in lab flasks in order to see how reactions proceeded in a more realistic environment than previous experiments without such features.

"Understanding how far you can go with just organic and minerals "Before you have a real cell, it's really important to understand what types of environments life could emerge from," Barge said. "Also, investigating how things like the atmosphere, the ocean and the minerals in the vents all this impact can help you understand how likely it has occurred on another planet."

A time-lapse video of a miniature hydrothermal chimney forming in the lab, as it would be in the early Earth's ocean.

(Image: © NASA / JPL- Caltech / Flores)

Scientists are particularly intrigued by the possibility that such hydrothermal vent environments exist on ice-crusted moons in the ocean floor of the outer solar system. Such sites include Saturn's Moon Enceladus and Jupiter's Moon Europa .

The new research is described in a paper published yesterday (Feb. 25) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @ meghanbartels . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook .


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