As the figurative saying goes, men are from Mars and women are from Venus. A chemist though argues that all life might actually be from Mars — literally.
Professor Steven Benner, founder of the Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology in Gainsville, Florida, will present evidence to geochemists at the Goldschmidt conference that supports the origins of earthly life beginning on Mars.
“The evidence seems to be building that we are actually all Martians; that life started on Mars and came to Earth on a rock,” Benner said in a press release issued ahead of his Thursday speech. “It’s lucky that we ended up here nevertheless, as certainly Earth has been the better of the two planets for sustaining life. If our hypothetical Martian ancestors had remained on Mars, there might not have been a story to tell.”
This hypothesis involves an oxidized mineral form of the element molybdenum, which Benner argues could have been crucial to the origin of life, from the standpoint that life arose from a primordial soup of elements. This compound would have only been present on Mars, not Earth, according to Benner.
“In addition, recent studies show that these conditions, suitable for the origin of life, may still exist on Mars,” said Benner, who graduated with degrees from Yale and Harvard in the 1970s.
Here’s more from the press release regarding the issues Benner thinks this hypothesis could resolve:
The research Professor Benner will present at the Goldschmidt conference tackles two of the paradoxes which make it difficult for scientists to understand how life could have started on Earth.
The first is dubbed by Professor Benner as the ‘tar paradox’. All living things are made of organic matter, but if you add energy such as heat or light to organic molecules and leave them to themselves, they don’t create life. Instead, they turn into something more like tar, oil or asphalt.
“Certain elements seem able to control the propensity of organic materials to turn into tar, particularly boron and molybdenum, so we believe that minerals containing both were fundamental to life first starting,” says Professor Benner. “Analysis of a Martian meteorite recently showed that there was boron on Mars; we now believe that the oxidized form of molybdenum was there too.”
The second paradox is that life would have struggled to start on the early Earth because it was likely to have been totally covered by water. Not only would this have prevented sufficient concentrations of boron forming – it’s currently only found in very dry places like Death Valley – but water is corrosive to RNA, which scientists believe was the first genetic molecule to appear. Although there was water on Mars, it covered much smaller areas than on early Earth.
If life began on Mars then, how did it come to Earth? Some scientists believe life — or the compounds to create it –was transferred on comets and meteorites, an idea called panspermia, according to NBC News.
But is Benner’s hypothesis all together too “out there?” Some think so.
“This isn’t really evidence that life came from Mars, but it is evidence that Steven Benner is very clever,” astrobiologist David Grinspoon told NBC.
“I think chemists always think they know more than they know, because nature has a lot of possible pathways it can try,” Grinspoon said.