New research has shown that iron (Fe) can catalyze metabolic reactions without enzymes. Findings suggest that the abundant metal might have played a key role in early biochemistry before enzymes evolved. Researchers at the University of Oxford uncovered the importance of iron for the development of complex life on Earth – which also may hint at the likelihood of complex life on other planets.
“Contrary to our first expectations, global climate was not the primary cause of this change in ocean oxygen and nitrogen cycling,” said biogeochemist Emma Kast currently at the University of Cambridge about the planet’s dramatic increase in oxygen 55 million years ago. The more likely culprit? Plate tectonics. The collision of India with Asia — dubbed “the collision that changed the world” by Columbia University geoscientist Wally Broecker, a pioneer in the ocean’s role in climate change.— closed off an ancient sea called the Tethys, disturbing the continental shelves and their connections with the open ocean.
During a keynote speech at a NASA conference a decade ago on the search for extraterrestrial life an attendee shouted out: “We have no idea what’s out there!” One of NASA’s goals is to search for life on other planets like Mars, where there was once flowing water and a thick atmosphere, or moons of the outer solar system like Europa and Enceladus, where vast water oceans churn under thick layers of ice. But what if life on those worlds doesn’t use our DNA? How could we recognize it? A 2019 DNA breakthrough may be the key to answering these questions and many more.
Saturn’s moon Enceladus is unique in our Solar System — with plumes of water vapor and ice perpetually erupting, shooting jets hundreds of miles into space from its global subsurface ocean through cracks —parallel, evenly spaced “stripes” that are some 130 kilometers long and 35 kilometers apart–on Enceladus’s ice-encased surface providing an intriguing glimpse into what the moon’s subsurface ocean might contain, possibly providing conditions favorable to life. The answer, a new study has found, may lie in the plumes.
“Modern metabolism has a precursor, a template, that was non-biological,” says biochemist Greg Springsteen at Furman University.
“Without phosphorus there would be no thought,” observed Jacob Moleschott a 19th-century physiologist and philosopher. Phosphorus is one of the six main elements that make up the human body and an essential element for life as we know it for the creation of DNA, cell membranes, bones and teeth in humans, and even the microbiome of ocean-dwelling plankton–as a possible signature in the search for life in the cosmos.