A key ingredient of life is DNA, as well as its partner in crime RNA, and the molecule that stores energy. Therefore, without phosphorus cells couldn’t reproduce, and wouldn’t even survive long enough to have a fair shot at it. 

A paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that phosphorus-based molecules were in fact formed on the surface of tiny droplets of water. 

Lead author, Richard Zare, a chemist at Stanford University, and his colleagues strove to decipher the origins of life. The only way they could achieve this, was by experimentation. They have been exploring ways of creating a range of phosphorus compounds in vats of water, so they decided to use small droplets instead. 

Zare said, “Water, which we think of as so benign and prevalent, can in the form of tiny droplets be very reactive. On the surface of droplets, there’s lots of action.”

The team combined sugars and a phosphorus called phosphoric acid into a water droplet, they actually stick together to form a sugar phosphate without any additional heat, energy, or catalyst. 

“These are all the building blocks for making RNA,” explained Zare. “I just think this is a very tantalizing finding.” Moreover, the team were also able to produce uridine, one of the four “letters” of the RNA code. 

Although experiencing success, Zare had admitted to receiving hate mail from creationists. However, he continues to try and find ways of building up larger molecules to try to make the four different bases that make up RNA, which many, although not all, origins of life scientists believe would have been the first component, since it can both reproduce itself and build proteins. 

Despite not knowing exactly how to go about those experiments, the team are starting to mix more ingredients into the droplets and explore ways to pool and recycle the droplets. 

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