An illustration of planet Earth from space. Depositphotos.

Scientists Find Life’s Secret Ingredient in Water Droplets

Essentially, scientists say they have found the "fountain of life" and say that water droplets hold the secret ingredient for "building" life.

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In a study, chemists have discovered a key to the chemical synthesis of early Earth that could be used to speed up drug discovery. For decades, scientists have been puzzled by why peptide-forming reactions occur in water, but Purdue University chemists may have found the answer. The origin of life is essentially the result of this chemistry,” said Graham Cooks, professor at Purdue’s College of Science.

Researchers have revealed that peptides, the building blocks of life, spontaneously form in droplets of pure water as a result of primordial molecules, simple amino acids. This, in other words, makes this a kind of dramatic discovery. Scientists published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealing that the water-based chemistry which leads to proteins could also speed up the development of drugs for treating humanity’s most debilitating diseases.

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Despite decades of scientific speculation, scientists have not been able to explain how life on Earth began. Many agree that it began in the oceans, but the exact mechanism behind it and what kick-started it remained a mystery. During the early Earth’s history, meteorites delivered raw amino acids to form peptides, the building blocks of proteins which eventually form life as we know it.

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A catch, however, is that the process requires losing a water molecule, which is highly unlikely if the process is carried out in a humid, aqueous, or oceanic environment. For life to form, there must be water. However, there must also be space away from the water for this life to have a chance. It is essentially a scientific riddle and an important one at that. The answer, according to Cooks, is somewhat simplistic at first: “Water does not wet everywhere.” He is an expert in mass spectrometry and early Earth chemistry. When water droplets meet the atmosphere, abiotic amino acids are transformed into the building blocks of life in incredibly fast reactions.

The landscapes where sea spray and waves pound, or freshwater burbles down a slope, could be fertile for the evolution of life. In order to study chemical reactions in water droplets, chemists have used mass spectrometers for over ten years. “Droplet reactions can occur at speeds of up to a million times faster than those occurring in bulk solution,” Cooks explained. In early Earth chemistry, catalysts were not necessary because these reactions proceeded at such a fast rate, speeding up the reactions and, in turn, allowing life to emerge.

Scientific research has been striving to understand how this process works for decades. Scientists can use the secret of how life arose on Earth as a tool to understand why it happened and find life on other planets and moons. Science’s understanding of chemical synthesis is revolutionized by understanding how amino acids are converted into proteins, which ultimately lead to life. Synthetic chemists can now use that same chemistry to speed up reactions critical to discovering and developing new drugs and treatments.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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