Did life on Earth start on Mars? A scientist lays out the evidence

Did life on Earth start on Mars? A scientist lays out the evidence

By Deborah Netburn

August 29, 2013, 7:09 p.m.

Did life as we know it start on Mars? Are we all Martians? These are the questions some serious scientists are considering. Speaking at an international conference of geochemists, chemist Steven Benner of the Westheimer Institute of Science and Technology argued Thursday that early Mars provided a more hospitable environment for life to spring up than early Earth. “The evidence seems to be building that we are actually Martians; that life started on Mars and came to Earth on a rock,” he said in a statement.Scientists generally agree that earliest life took the form of an RNA molecule that could create other RNA molecules based on the same template.

The trouble is, no one has been able to satisfactorily explain how the original “living” bit of RNA formed.

As anyone who has cooked down sugar knows, simply adding energy to organic molecules and then leaving them alone doesn’t get you life — it usually gets you a sticky mixture that Benner describes as “better suited for paving roads than supporting Darwinian evolution.”

Another stumbling block for those trying to understand how early life formed is what Benner calls “the water paradox.” Earth was covered in water at the time that life was supposed to be forming, and though water is essential to life as we know it, it is also corrosive to biopolymers such as RNA and DNA, which are the building blocks of life, he said.

So, how did life ever get going?

Benner can’t say for sure, but he has found evidence that the mineral boron and an oxidized mineral form of the element molybdenum can keep organic material from turning into tar, and may be essential for allowing life to form.

Those two elements were probably not found on early Earth, because there wasn’t enough oxygen on our planet at the time and it wasn’t dry enough, he said, but they could have been found on early Mars, which did have oxygen and which was more arid.

“It’s yet another piece of evidence which makes it more likely life came to Earth on a Martian meteorite, rather than starting on this planet,” Benner said in a statement.

A Mars start for life might also solve the water paradox, he said, because back when life was first forming, Mars had areas of dry land and areas covered by water. Indeed, NASA’s Curiosity rover has found evidence of water on Mars and evidence that the planet was once hospitable for life.

So, did Benner’s talk provide conclusive evidence that life started on Mars? No. But he did provide evidence to support his theory.

He also adds that although he thinks life could have started on Mars, he’s glad it is now thriving on Earth.

“It’s lucky that we ended up here, as certainly Earth has been the better of the two planets for sustaining life,” he said in a statement. “If our hypothetical Martian ancestors had remained on Mars, there might not have been a story to tell.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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