Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"We are all Martians"

"Life here began out there."

Or so went a familiar TV voiceover.

I saw this headline at Discover: "Are We All Martians?"  You have to be a subscriber to read the actual article, so I went in search of more about its source material.

Professor Steven Benner at the Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology has proposed that in primordial times, Mars was actually a more likely candidate for life than Earth.  His evidence comes from what it takes to form the molecules that are necessary RNA and DNA.  During its incipient stages, Earth may likely not have had what it takes to form those protein chains.  Therefore, the required matter had to come from somewhere else.  Benner says:

"The evidence seems to be building that we are actually all Martians; that life started on Mars and came to Earth on a rock."

Indeed meteorites that are actually fragments of the planet Mars have been hitting Earth since prehistoric times.  A few of them may have carried the minerals required to form RNA and DNA proteins which would have been abundant on early Mars.  As case in point, Benner points to molybdenum.

"It’s only when molybdenum becomes highly oxidized that it is able to influence how early life formed. This form of molybdenum couldn't have been available on Earth at the time life first began, because three billion years ago, the surface of the Earth had very little oxygen, but Mars did."

So perhaps that's a little different.  It's unclear to me, without reading his primary research, if he means that the missing elements needed for life came here from Mars or if actual primitive lifeforms did.  Or both? I can understand mineral or chemical components.  What flummoxes me a bit is how, if indeed this is Benner's argument, life itself would have made the voyage.  See if you follow me.

A meteor hits Mars.  Fragments of the planet are launched upward, carrying single-cell or bacteria-like life.  Somehow, this rock makes it through the atmosphere of Mars (which it must have had at the time) and crosses the void to crash into Earth.  This life then grabbles about for a foothold on its new home and eventually becomes us.  I know that it has more or less been proven feasible that life such as microbes could survive the journey deep inside a meteorite, but maybe I'm getting Benner's proposition all wrong.

Whatever the case, it's more argument for a Mars that once supported life.  Just how sophisticated that life once was remains to be seen.

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