Do you wax nostalgic about the days when we were a primordial ooze floating in the ancient ocean? Me, too. But how did that ooze come together to start forming beings that could reproduce themselves? No one’s quite sure how those first complex molecules, like RNA, formed. Was it magic? Abracadabra, let there be life!
Well, turns out our pre-life ancestors may have been hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S), with a little UV light thrown in, and to kickstart the whole shebang – the magic Frankenstein moment – the energy from the impact of a comet. These humble molecules thus gave rise to nucleic acid precursors, and these presumably formed early RNA molecules, capable of replicating themselves. And now we’re not alone (or at least these pre-life ancestors aren’t) – there’s new evidence that HCN and other precursors to life formed around other stars. I shall never look askance again at HCN or H2S.
Going back a little further, the building blocks for the building blocks of life were made by supernovae and hypernovae. We are, quite literally, stardust. Other molecules essential to life were concocted in the celestial realm – up to half of the water on Earth is believed to have been formed in interstellar clouds prior to the formation of the solar system.
The next move, I suppose, will be creating the conditions to actually replicate the beginning of life – think it’ll happen in the next 5-10 years?