Life on Earth kick-started by ‘a quintillion lightning strikes’, new study claims


The earliest life forms on Earth were formed from lightning strikes billions of years ago, according to a new study.

Scientists from the University of Leeds and Yale University in the US believe up to a quintillion bolts of lightning may have helped free up phosphorous required for the emergence of living organisms.

Their research offers insight into the formation of biomolecules and the origins of Earth’s earliest microbial life – and potential extra-terrestrial life on similar rocky planets. Phosphorus is a crucial part of the recipe for life. It makes up the phosphate backbone of DNA and RNA, hereditary material in living organisms, and represents an important component of cell membranes.

On early Earth, this chemical element was locked inside insoluble minerals. Until now, it was widely thought that meteorites that bombarded early Earth were primarily responsible for the presence of “bioavailable” phosphorus. Some meteorites contain the phosphorus mineral called schreibersite, which is soluble in water, where life is thought to have formed.

When a bolt of lightning strikes the ground, it can create glassy rocks called fulgurites by super-heating and sometimes vaporizing surface rock, freeing phosphorus locked inside. As a result, these fulgurites can contain schreibersite.


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