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Your Ancestors May Have Been Martians

By: April Carson

NASA's most advanced life-hunting laboratory will be landing on the Red Planet next week, where it will attempt a touchdown. If all goes well, the Perseverance rover will begin rolling along dried-up riverbeds in the first direct attempt to answer one of Mars exploration's fundamental questions: Is there or was there life on Mars?

The Perseverance rover is outfitted with the most sophisticated tools ever sent to Mars. It has a high-definition camera, a ground-penetrating radar and a laser that can identify minerals.

It could be decades before we know for sure, but I'm convinced that perseverance will lead to a definitive answer. As data begin to return to Earth over the next years, a small group of planetary scientists will be looking for indications of an even more fantastic concept. Maybe life on Earth originated from Mars.

“There's a lot of new information that has emerged lately, which strongly supports the concept of a Martian origin of life and its potential transport to Earth,” says Christopher Carr, a planetary scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology who recently published an unreviewed preprint on the subject.

Biologists have reconstructed huge sections of the family tree that connects all known creatures in recent years. Human beings and apes shared a common ancestor as recently as 13 million years ago, according to fossils, and 65 million years ago whales, bats, and humans all appeared to be siblings. According to genetic research, the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) — a microbial Adam or Eve – most likely lived about four billion years ago in a sea vent.

It all ends there. At the bottom of the tree of life, genetic records become scanty. LUCA's competitors may have stayed as fossils for a time, but the planet's tectonic churn has long since destroyed its first rocks. All scientists are certain that Earth originated about 4.5 billion years ago, and then half a billion years later LUCA lived. Its evolution and where its predecessors came from are both up for debate.

According to this scenario, LUCA was a Martian microbe that traveled by asteroid and became the first creature on our planet. The notion isn't widely accepted. Carr, on the other hand, advances two arguments in favor of considering a Martian origin for life.

According to Andrew, organic molecules "fall down basically all over the world" throughout the cosmos. However, no one knows which specific chemical reactions joined organic chemicals into the many building blocks that made up cells on Earth. On land in shallow pools of water, where ultraviolet light, evaporation, precipitation, and heat from volcanoes or asteroid impacts might stir up the components in the right ways (although many scientists think deep sea vents are a better option), one famous recipe claims that the friendliest environment for cooking up life is located.

The world was submerged in water. All but a few percent of the surface of the Earth was beneath the sea three and a half billion years ago, according to researchers, and LUCA lived far before that. Meanwhile, young Mars may have been damp but not soaked, giving life there much more potential.

The second clue is a pattern in amino acids, the cell's building blocks that allow proteins to function and survive. Even though most contemporary proteins may work with around half of the collection, all LUCA descendants use the same 20 molecules to build their molecular machinery. According to a 2018 study, the less essential amino acids appear to aid organisms cope with oxidation, which hints that LUCA's forerunners included them while evolving in an atmosphere rich in oxygen or other oxidizing chemicals.

LUCA, according to Carr, may have ingested its first two billion years of existence without oxygen by consuming oxidized compounds. How did LUCA get its oxidation-friendly amino acids when Earth was devoid of oxygen for the first 2 billion years?

According to Carr, life's roots may date back to Mars, where conditions were oxidative early on. Life could have gotten a ride to Earth in one of the many asteroids exchanged between the planet.

Nonetheless, various life origins theorists doubt that the obstacles to life on Earth are significant enough to require interplanetary travel. The young Earth did not have continents, but Hawaii-like isles may very well have been sufficient real estate for life to develop, according to Nicholas Hud of Georgia Tech, who was not part of the recent study. Furthermore, he believes organisms could have utilized the extra amino acids for reasons other than as antioxidants.

Over the years, several Mars researchers have advanced the notion that it may have been a friendlier habitat for life than Earth, but Hud hasn't yet come across one he considers convincing. “I don't think [moving the start of life to Mars] is as dramatic as it needs to be,” he says. “Maybe we just need to figure out some of the chemistry better. Maybe our idea for early Earth isn't quite correct.”

Next week, Perseverance won't be able to determine whether or not life exists on Mars, but it will provide insights into early Mars. The rover's instruments may be able to better assess when Mars began rusting (or oxidizing) by examining surface deposits (and determining whether the onset of oxidation follows the inferred date for when pre-Earth life produced its nonessential amino acids).

Carr's ultimate goal is to one day deliver a gene sequencer to Mars that could settle the question once and for all: a genetic analyzer capable of detecting Martian genetic materials from current life (if it exists) and determining whether they are related. Carr is a member of MIT's Search for Extraterrestrial Genomes, which is developing such a device, and he claims that their machine is now close to ready for flight. Finding live Martian bacteria to study will be challenging because the most comfy areas on contemporary Mars are deep underground.

“This can be done on a future Mars expedition,” Carr adds. “We could look for bacteria in the subsurface, and if we find them, bring them back to Earth for analysis."

While Carr's research is still ongoing, and has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, his team's preliminary findings were presented at a scientific conference in 2016. At that time, they claimed that their genetic analyzer had already detected Martian DNA in three separate Earthly samples: a meteorite, a sample of Martian soil collected by the Curiosity rover, and a sample of the planet's atmosphere.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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