Researchers at the University of South Florida (USF) and the University of Washington suggest that life-producing phosphorus from asteroid impacts 3.5 billion years ago may have boosted early life on Earth.
Scientists have always been curious to solve the mystery behind how life on Earth can be linked to asteroids. Finally, researchers at the University of South Florida (USF) and the University of Washington may have found what scientists have been looking for all these years. According to them, life-producing phosphorus from asteroid impacts 3.5 billion years ago may have boosted early life on Earth.
The phosphorus may have incorporated themselves into prebiotic molecules when released in water. According to USF professor Matthew Pasek, this phosphorus is mostly found in asteroids and could have been brought to earth by meteoroids and comets and released the life-producing element on the planet after an impact.
Scientists of the study revealed that meteorites delivered phosphorus in minerals that are currently not seen on the surface of Earth. They focused on the early period of Earth and after examining core samples from Zimbabwe, Australia, Wyoming, West Virginia and Florida, they were able to determine the mineral's origin.
According to researchers, "the minerals likely corroded in water, releasing large amounts of phosphorus in a form only found during Earth's early formation. The phosphite would have likely resulted in an adjusting of the chemistry of Earth's early oceans, with its chemical signature later becoming trapped in marine carbonate where it was preserved."
Though there are a few natural sources of phosphite that are Earth-based, none of them are capable of producing the quantities of phosphite needed to be dissolved in early Earth oceans that gave rise to life
"The importance of this finding is that it provides the missing ingredient in the origin-of-life recipe: a form of phosphorus that can be readily incorporated into essential biological molecules," said Roger Buick, a co-author of the study.