A new study could upend nine decades of scientific consensus that life on Earth originated in the ocean, and not on land.
Doctoral student Tara Djokic found evidence the oldest fossilized evidence of life occurred in fresh, not salt, water. That pushes back the date for the emergence of life on land by 580 million years, meaning life could have actually originated on land.
Now, scientists have been forced to reexamine 90 years of scientific theory claiming the origins of life likely occurred in a “primordial soup” in the ocean after a series of chemical reactions.
“What she (Djokic) showed was that the oldest fossil evidence for life was in fresh water,” David Deamer, a University of California Santa Cruz astrobiologist who was involved in the research, said in a statement. “It’s a logical continuation to life beginning in a freshwater environment.”
Deamer believes there are serious flaws with claims life began in the ocean. Salty seawater could inhibit some of the processes necessary for life to begin, and essential molecules would be dispersed too quickly into a vast ocean, he argued.
“I think, every once in awhile, you have to be brave enough and bold enough to try new ideas,” Deamer said. “Of course, some of my colleagues think even ‘foolish enough.’ But that’s the chance you take.”
According to Deamer this discovery has huge implications for the search for life on other planets. If life began on land on Earth, it probably could have done so on Mars, which likely had an environment similar to where Deamer thinks life started 3.65 billion years ago. Large parts of Mars were probably capable of supporting life for over 100 million years, according to new observations from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity published in December. The rover even found organic material “all over” the Red Planet.
Many scientists have advanced the “primordial soup” hypothesis that life began when lightning or ultraviolet rays caused simple molecules to join together. It’s been supported by laboratory experiments that found trace amounts of molecular building blocks of life can be created under similar conditions. Alternative research suggests that the primordial soup was not the right kind of environment to create the kind of complex adaptions which allowed the first living cell to harness energy, but suggest that the origin still occurred in the ocean.
Other research published last August sent shock waves through the scientific community by suggesting life on Earth may have started deep in the ocean around hydrothermal vents, overturning 90 years of scientific consensus.
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