Did phosphorus-rich lakes help kickstart life on Earth?

earthsky.org | 1/17/2020 | Paul Scott Anderson
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Click For Photo: https://en.es-static.us/upl/2019/12/Mono-Lake-California-carbonates-pillars-Dec-30-2019-300x199.jpg

Mono Lake in Eastern California. This salty lake – with salt pillars – is rich in carbonates and phosphorus, similar to lakes that scientists involved in the new study think helped with the evolution of life on Earth billions of years ago. Image via Matthew Dillon/ Flickr/ Washington University.

How did life begin on Earth? That’s one of the most fundamental questions of science. Much progress has been made, but there are still many puzzles. Now, researchers at the University of Washington (UW) present some intriguing new findings involving phosphorus, one of the chemical ingredients essential for life as we know it. They explored how high levels of phosphorus in carbonate-rich lakes could have helped life begin on our planet.

Study - December - Proceedings - National - Academy

The new peer-reviewed study was published December 30, 2019, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study focuses on what scientists call the phosphate problem.

Building - Blocks - Life - Earth - Chemical

That is, the building blocks of life on Earth are created by chemical reactions that require large amounts of phosphorus. But phosphorus is rather scarce on our planet overall, so where did enough of it come from to fuel the development of life? As Jonathan Toner of UW, first author on the new paper, said in a statement:

For 50 years,the phosphate problem has plagued studies on the origin of life.

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Phosphorus is one of the six main chemical elements needed for the building blocks of life as we know it. Image via Roanoke Landscapes.

Sample - Phosphorus - Microchip - Image - MUO

A sample of black phosphorus on a microchip. Image via MUO.

The answer, it seems, may be in certain kinds of lakes, ones that are rich in carbonates, chemical compounds derived from carbonic acid or carbon dioxide. Found on all seven continents, these lakes are found in depressions in dry environments. They are also known as...
(Excerpt) Read more at: earthsky.org
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