Jun 20, 2019 | Updated: 03:45 PM EDT

New Study Shows that Life on Earth Began in a Shallow Pond, Not in the Ocean

Apr 13, 2019 04:19 PM EDT

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Shallow Lakes
(Photo : Bering Land Bridge National Preserve)
Shallow Lakes


For centuries, the study on evolution has built upon life starting in the oceans. Gradual changes caused the primarily marine creatures to evolve and some started thriving on land. The pattern went on and on until a multitude of living creatures is now thriving both on land and water. This has been the concept for as long as humanity has been studying the origin of life.

However, a new study from a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) states that life on Earth started on small shallow ponds. 

The researchers explained that the shallow bodies of water, are most likely to have had very high concentrations of nitrogen, which makes up the primordial soup that brought forth life. The ponds are said to be only 10 centimeters deep.

The team further explained that the high concentration of nitrogenous oxides in shallow ponds is in the best condition for nitrogenous oxide to react with other compounds, which would have created the first life form. To compare, because the ocean is much deeper than a 10-centimeter pond, it would have been difficult for nitrogen to establish what the researchers call a significant and life-catalyzing presence.

Sukrit Ranjan, a postdoc in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), and the lead author of the study pointed out that the origin of life needed fixed nitrogen.

The two scenarios that the team is looking into are, first, the deep ocean where nitrogenous oxides would have reacted with bubbling carbon dioxide from vents; second is a nitrogen-based hypothesis where ribonucleic acid (RNA) reacted with nitrogenous oxides which jump-started the first molecules that supported life.

Ranjan explains that ponds that are more shallow offer an environment that is more conducive for molecules to interact with RNA. The scientist later explains that the ponds are anywhere from 10 to 100 centimeters. Larger and deeper bodies of water would have less concentration of nitrogen oxides.

Other research groups postulate that over 3.9 billion years ago there would have been 500 square kilometers of shallow lakes and ponds across the globe, just before the first signs of life roamed the Earth.

The on-going discussions and debates about the origin of life have not yet concluded to a single answer, however, their recent study, according to Ranjan gravitates towards the concept of life flourishing from the shallow ponds and lakes.

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