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Assembling Life

January 10, 2007

A new technique may help scientists find out more about how life on Earth began.


The first steps toward life. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Before there was life, there was just the sea, the air, and minerals. Scientists think the first steps toward life must have taken place when a few types of molecules from the sea and the air collected on a few types of minerals. Now mineralogist Robert Hazen and his colleagues at the Carnegie Institition of Washington are looking for those perfect combinations. They do it by dotting a microscopic array of nearly 100 different molecules on small mineral plates. They then try to wash them off.

ROBERT HAZEN (Carnegie Institution of Washington):
When we see certain molecules are sticking to a mineral surface, it means those molecules are pulled out of solution, they’re concentrated, and they’re poised to go through much more elaborate chemistry—the chemistry that would lead from simplicity to life.

A process that on Earth happened nearly four billion years ago. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.