We all may have a little Martian in us

New research suggests mineral only found on Mars may have been crucial to the origin of life

nasa shot of mars
Men are supposed to be from Mars as John Gray's iconic relationship book would have you think, but new research presented this week suggests that in reality; we all may hail from the Red Planet.

"The evidence seems to be building that we are actually all Martians; that life started on Mars and came to Earth on a rock.  It's lucky that we ended up here nevertheless, as certainly Earth has been the better of the two planets for sustaining life. If our hypothetical Martian ancestors had remained on Mars, there might not have been a story to tell." Professor Steven Benner of The Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology told the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Florence, Italy this week.

[MORE: What is so infinitely cool about Mars?]

The evidence in this case is "an oxidized mineral form of the element molybdenum, which may have been crucial to the origin of life, could only have been available on the surface of Mars and not on Earth," Benner said.

Recent studies show that these conditions, suitable for the origin of life, may still exist on Mars. 

"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. It's yet another piece of evidence which makes it more likely life came to Earth on a Martian meteorite, rather than starting on this planet," Benner said.

Benner went on to detail his research by defining what he called the 'tar paradox.' All living things are made of organic matter, but if you add energy such as heat or light to organic molecules and leave them to themselves, they don't create life. Instead, they turn into something more like tar, oil or asphalt.

[MORE: NASA Mars Curiosity mission madness]

"Certain elements seem able to control the propensity of organic materials to turn into tar, particularly boron and molybdenum, so we believe that minerals containing both were fundamental to life first starting.  Analysis of a Martian meteorite recently showed that there was boron on Mars; we now believe that the oxidized form of molybdenum was there too."

In addition life would have struggled to start on the early Earth because it was likely to have been totally covered by water. Not only would this have prevented sufficient concentrations of boron forming -- it's currently only found in very dry places like Death Valley -- but water is corrosive to RNA, which scientists believe was the first genetic molecule to appear. Although there was water on Mars, it covered much smaller areas than on early Earth, Benner said.

Benner's research is likely to rekindle the debate about how RNA, DNA and proteins - the three key ingredients of life, came together.

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