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Mosaic of the Valles Marineris hemisphere of Mars projected into point perspective, a view similar to that which one would see from a spacecraft.

Mosaic of the Valles Marineris hemisphere of Mars projected into point perspective, a view similar to that which one would see from a spacecraft

Image Processing by Jody Swann/Tammy Becker/Alfred McEwen, using the PICS (Planetary Image Cartography System), NASA/NSSDC

Marc Kaufman

for National Geographic

Published September 5, 2013

Did life begin on Mars and then travel to Earth for its blossoming?

A long-debated and often-dismissed theory known as "panspermia" got new life in the past week, as two scientists separately proposed that early Earth lacked some chemicals essential to forming life, while early Mars likely had them.

First came Steven Benner, an iconoclastic and highly regarded origins-of-life chemist with the Westheimer Institute of Science and Technology in Gainesville, Florida.

Last week, during a keynote talk at the Goldschmidt conference for geochemists in Florence, Italy, Benner said that two elements that allow the precursors of life to form were almost certainly unavailable on early Earth but were likely present on early Mars.

"Basically, we went looking on Mars because the origins-of-life options on Earth just aren't looking very good," Benner said.

One of the stumbling blocks to life starting on Earth is the fact that water is almost universally accepted as necessary for the onset of life. Yet RNA—which many consider to be the earliest expression of genetic replication and another essential precursor to life as we know it—falls apart if you try to build it in water.

What keeps that from happening, Benner has found over years of study, is the presence of a form of the element boron. While geologists say boron was too scarce on early Earth to support any widespread creation of RNA, it was seemingly more abundant on early Mars. One sign of its presence on the red planet is that at least one meteorite has delivered some Martian boron to Earth.

Benner has also found in his lab that if a form of the element molybdenum is added to the mix, the boron-steadied compounds are rearranged to form a stable version of ribose—the "R" in RNA.

Again, the element was far more available on early Mars than early Earth. (See "Naked Science: Finding the Origin of Life.")

So the question arises: Did RNA on Mars lead to actual DNA-based life? And did those lifeforms then travel to Earth on rocks kicked up when a meteorite struck Mars?

"The Phosphate Problem"

A few days after Benner's talk on August 29, a paper appeared in the journal Nature Geoscience that made a similar argument about phosphorus compounds, which form the backbone of RNA, DNA, and proteins.

While phosphates were present on early Earth, said lead author Christopher Adcock of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, they were most frequently found in a solid state, in which they are most stable. Yet biology is understood to have started in water, which would have contained little of the phosphates on early Earth.

"This has long been called 'the phosphate problem,'" Adcock said in an interview. "There are theories out there about how it might have worked [on early Earth], but there's no consensus.

"That played a part in getting us interested in Mars," he said.

On Mars, Adcock's team concluded, the phosphate problem appears to be much smaller. Adcock and his colleague Elizabeth Hausrath synthesized the two types of phosphates known to be on both early and current-day Mars, compounds that have also been delivered to Earth via meteorites.

Those Martian phosphates turned out to be far more soluble in water and also more abundant. So when it came to essential phosphates, at least, Mars appears to have been a better nursery for life.

Answering the Big Cosmic Question

The reemergence of the theory of panspermia is intertwined with progress (or lack of progress) in a long-term scientific quest to find out how life began on Earth, a question that synthetic biology experts such as Benner have been working on for decades. Despite some advances, the field has come up against chemical walls that are proving impossible to climb.

For instance, Benner said, the organic—meaning carbon-based—compounds understood to have come together to form life in a "prebiotic soup" do not behave in the lab in a way that would indicate they led to the formation of life on early Earth.

When these compounds are energized by heat or light, instead of producing early RNA they create tar—hardly the stuff from which we would all evolve. Yet discoveries over the past decade on Mars have pointed to a planet that was once warmer and wetter than it is now.

No living or fossil organisms have been found on Mars. But the science team working with the rover Curiosity concluded earlier this year that they had drilled into an ancient lake bed that had all that was needed to support life—and consequently that the planet had been habitable. (See "NASA's Mars Rover Makes Successful First Drill.")

That doesn't mean it ever was inhabited, but scientific signs are beginning to point, however hesitantly, in that direction.

Does this mean Benner or Adcock sees panspermia as a likely beginning for life on Earth? Not exactly.

Benner says that "it's yet another piece of evidence which makes it more likely life came to Earth on a Martian meteorite." But it's more of a changing of probabilities than it is scientific proof.

"A panspermia solution, after all, produces another panspermia problem," he said. "If a Martian microbe did make it from Mars to Earth, maybe it would be as if it landed in Eden. But just as likely, it would quickly die."

22 comments
EJ Lanz Selguera
EJ Lanz Selguera

THANK YOU SO MUCH National Geographic for the information. It helps me a lot..

GOD BLESS YOU ALWAYS! :) 

Scot Woods
Scot Woods

I'm wondering if anyone has additional information on the Mars image accompanying this article? Is it a real-color image taken from visible-spectrum photography, or false color? Not very red, is it?

JOAO SUBTIL
JOAO SUBTIL

Ok! So, I can understand this panspermia theory, but I would like to know if the man came to Earth after the panspermia, or is he a natural consequence of evolution. That because it remains a large gap betewen man and the rest of nature, while mankind still develloping tools and machines, constructing buildings and structures, and proceeding to growup all he needs for food, catle and chiken and fish, and so on.

For that habillity, man is the only animal on Earth that can live in extremely  adverse climate and soils, producing its clothes and other needs.

Andre Dusablon
Andre Dusablon

As soon as gods come into the argument, the argument is over. Imagine how much good some one could accomplish with the energy expended making up excuses for their fairy tales.

Babu Ranganathan
Babu Ranganathan

ANY LIFE ON MARS CAME FROM EARTH

In the Earth's past there was powerful volcanic activity which could have easily spewed dirt and rocks containing microbes into outer space which not only could have eventually reached Mars but also ended up traveling in orbit through space that we now know as meteors. A Newsweek article of September 21, 1998, p.12 mentions exactly this possibility. "We think there's about 7 million tons of earth soil sitting on Mars", says scientist and evolutionist Kenneth Nealson. "You have to consider the possibility that if we find life on Mars, it could have come from the Earth" [Weingarten, T., Newsweek, September 21, 1998, p.12].

HAVING THE RAW MATERIALS FOR LIFE doesn't mean that life can originate by chance.

Proteins can't come into existence unless there's life first! Miller, in his famous experiment in 1953, showed that individual amino acids (the building blocks of life) could come into existence by chance. But, it's not enough just to have amino acids. The various amino acids that make-up life must link together in a precise sequence, just like the letters in a sentence, to form functioning protein molecules. If they're not in the right sequence the protein molecules won't work. It has never been shown that various amino acids can bind together into a sequence by chance to form protein molecules. Even the simplest cell is
made up of many millions of various protein molecules.

Also, what many don't realize is that Miller had a laboratory apparatus that shielded and protected the individual amino acids the moment they were formed, otherwise the amino acids would have quickly disintegrated and been destroyed in the mix of random energy and forces involved in Miller's experiment.

There is no innate chemical tendency for the various amino acids to bond with one another in a sequence. Any one amino acid can just as easily bond with any other. The only reason at all for why the various amino acids bond with one another in a precise sequence in the cells of our bodies is because they're directed to do so by an already existing sequence of molecules found in our genetic code.

Once you have a complete and living cell then the genetic code and biological machinery exist to direct the formation of more cells, but how could life or the cell have naturally originated when no directing code and mechanisms existed in nature? Read my Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM.

A partially-evolved cell (an oxymoron) can't wait millions of years for chance to make it complete and then become living!

Read my popular Internet article, ANY LIFE ON MARS CAME FROM EARTH!

Visit my newest sites, THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION and WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS (2ND Edition)

Babu G. Ranganathan*
B.A. Bible/Biology

Author of the popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

*I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending special creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I've been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis "Who's Who In The East" for my writings.

Tyrell Coker
Tyrell Coker

it is a good article looking forward to reading more on the topic

Babu Ranganathan
Babu Ranganathan

ANY LIFE ON MARS CAME FROM EARTH

In the Earth's past there was powerful volcanic activity which could have easily spewed dirt and rocks containing microbes into outer space which not only could have eventually reached Mars but also ended up traveling in orbit through space that we now know as meteors. A Newsweek article of September 21, 1998, p.12 mentions exactly this possibility. "We think there's about 7 million tons of earth soil sitting on Mars", says scientist and evolutionist Kenneth Nealson. "You have to consider the possibility that if we find life on Mars, it could have come from the Earth" [Weingarten, T., Newsweek, September 21, 1998, p.12].

HAVING THE RAW MATERIALS FOR LIFE doesn't mean that life can originate by chance.

Proteins can't come into existence unless there's life first! Miller, in his famous experiment in 1953, showed that individual amino acids (the building blocks of life) could come into existence by chance. But, it's not enough just to have amino acids. The various amino acids that make-up life must link together in a precise sequence, just like the letters in a sentence, to form functioning protein molecules. If they're not in the right sequence the protein molecules won't work. It has never been shown that various amino acids can bind together into a sequence by chance to form protein molecules. Even the simplest cell is
made up of many millions of various protein molecules.

Also, what many don't realize is that Miller had a laboratory apparatus that shielded and protected the individual amino acids the moment they were formed, otherwise the amino acids would have quickly disintegrated and been destroyed in the mix of random energy and forces involved in Miller's experiment.

There is no innate chemical tendency for the various amino acids to bond with one another in a sequence. Any one amino acid can just as easily bond with any other. The only reason at all for why the various amino acids bond with one another in a precise sequence in the cells of our bodies is because they're directed to do so by an already existing sequence of molecules found in our genetic code.

Once you have a complete and living cell then the genetic code and biological machinery exist to direct the formation of more cells, but how could life or the cell have naturally originated when no directing code and mechanisms existed in nature? Read my Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM.

A partially-evolved cell (an oxymoron) can't wait millions of years for chance to make it complete and then become living!

Read my popular Internet article, ANY LIFE ON MARS CAME FROM EARTH!

Visit my newest sites, THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION and WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS (2ND Edition)

Babu G. Ranganathan*
B.A. Bible/Biology

Author of the popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

*I have given successful lectures (with question and answerperiod afterwards) defending special creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I've been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis "Who's Who In The East" for my writings.

Jenni Ogden
Jenni Ogden

Mother Earth and her consort (& baby daddy), Mars...

Wendy Shreve
Wendy Shreve

Has anyone out there read Edgar Rice Burrough's, PRINCESS OF MARS? (a.k.a. JOHN CARTER movie)? Creepy how Burrough's predicted some of the hypotheses were discussing now. Time to take sci-fi more seriously!

Kevin NGS
Kevin NGS

Maybe these elements were from Mars, but life still originated in earth with the elements from Mars, maybe.

Ray Blice
Ray Blice

@Andre Dusablon Honestly, God and science can go hand-in-hand. Neither side is willing to get over their arrogance and pride in order to come together and maybe find some common ground. It's like looking under the hood of your car and saying 'yup. That happened by accident.' Don't insult others' beliefs.

Pierre Cauchy
Pierre Cauchy

You might appear smarter than other creationists but know you are not fooling anyone in the world of real science, that you are clearly an impostor trying to fool people who do not know any better

Pierre Cauchy
Pierre Cauchy

@Babu Ranganathan 

A flawed reasoning

You completely fail to mention ribozymes and ribonucleoproteins and how they explain the RNA - > DNA + RNA + protein world.

In the original RNA world, RNA itself was catalytic, there are some remnants even today (ribosomes). RNA can also interact with individual amino acids at its 3' end enhancing its catalytic properties. RNA can of course catalyse the formation of peptides - and it is widely accepted that this is how tRNA evolved, and thus how the RNA world moved on to the DNA+RNA+protein world.

In other words, you are wrong, you can have a preexisting RNA sequence and thus then best adapted protein sequence - so BY CHANCE - correponding to the peptide that would best interact and enhance the catalytic properties of a ribozyme - thus kickstarting the whole transition to codons -> tRNA and proteins.

So if RNA evolved on Mars as an RNA world, it is very possible that once on earth it moved on to a protein world this way, a process again relying on chance, just like evolution, which is uninamously accepted by sensible people.

All this without the "divine" intervention that you imply between the lines.

 Science keeps on succesfully pushing any divine origin to life away, and besides you people are not bringing anything useful nor new to the world - no discoveries, just desperate, blind criticism of real science because you are afraid that it is all happening by chance. We are DELIVERING - e.g. antibiotics, cancer treatments, reducing HIV infections etc - while you tell people to pray for your "God" to save you, and thus of course nothing happens

 

Jim Rogers
Jim Rogers

@Babu Ranganathan  Volcanoes couldn't "easily" cast material from earth into orbit or beyond, becaise the velocity needed for that is enormous: ~17.5k MPH for orbit, ~25k MPH to escape earth's gravity. That's why talk about material traveling between planets generally refers to asteroid or comet collisions to provide the energy. Also, with Mars having ~40% of earth's gravity, it is that much easier to eject stuff from Mars and eventually have it land on earth, than the other way around. 


S. Özgün
S. Özgün

@Babu RanganathanOkay, okay I see your point here, but the fact is, if there is a probability it will happen some day... Just think about a coin; you have the chance of getting tails 50% but even if you take your time and throw your coin 100 times it  can exceed or never come close to that 50%, you can never know, of course if you are not the "Devil of Laplace"... You are talking about combinations of amino-acids, ok, if there is even a probability of 1 in a billion it can happen, and as it seems it happened.

Terry Knouff
Terry Knouff

@Babu Ranganathan Actually Miller's amino acids did not in any way come about "by chance", he most certainly and purposely made them. He carefully and deliberately designed unique equipment and a well thought out experiment with the sole purpose of attempting to construct from materials that he already understood could combine to make amino acids to do just that.

Lute Olson
Lute Olson

@Pierre Cauchy Pierre,  I received a multiple healing while attending a Christian convention.  At the time, I was afflicted with actinic kertosis, osteoarthritis, ulcerative colitis.  I was loosing weight and passing blood.  I was dying.  My skin lesions were the first stage to skin cancer.  Colitis goes to either krones disease or colon cancer and I had the back of an old man.  At this convention, as I was preparing myself in prayer, I became immersed in a thick blanket of air.  I knew something was up and was told, "You are being prayed for, for healing, for blessings."  I replied with listing my ailments.  An hour later a pastor started his presentation and after he was done, he said he prayed for us before the convention began for healing and for blessings.  I wanted to jump up and yell I heard it but that would have been weird.  As I drove home that evening, I noticed one of the largest leasons begin to sink in the middle.  As time went on the leasons have became multiple bumps, an x-ray showed the spurs have dissappeard and I no longer have colitis.  So, that and beyond numbers are reasons why we tell people to pray for healing.  You know how to find answers to questions.  May you draw near to Him and may He draw near to you.

His truly,

Lute Olson
Lute Olson

@Pierre Cauchy I was healed of osteoarthritis, ulcerative colitis, kertosis.  I was loosing weight and passing blood.  Hemoglobin count was 8.9 and dropping.  I was dying. While attending a Christian convention, I was in prayer and became immersed in a thick blanket of air.  A voice said I was being prayed for.  I replied with my ailments.  I was healed by God. This and beyond numbers of other reasons are why we tell people to pray to God (the only god).  You might want to obtain a Bible or ask a Pastor for more information.  May He draw near to you and you draw near to Him.

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