Life Originating from Mars?

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mars_lifeScientist Steven Benner believes that organic compounds required for the original development of living organisms on earth could not have arisen on earth, but instead may have come from Mars. This is a fairly controversial theory. What would make a well-respected scientist in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, with a B.S./M.S. degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Harvard, risk his reputation and credibility? What would make this individual present a highly controversial idea at a large international conference of geologists where “half the room will be adamantly against his idea. People will probably throw things.”

For an individual to take such a chance would mean one or all of the following three things:

  • He is completely sure that his theory is correct, and he is willing to go to great lengths to defend it, no matter how outrageous it is.
  • He doesn’t care how outrageous others may think that his theory is, and he will present it anyway.
  • He is desperate, and can think of no other theory to explain the problem at hand.

Dr. Benner presented this controversial theory at the August 2013 Goldschmidt conference in Florence.  Steven Benner is a Ph.D. and has worked at Harvard University, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich, and at the University of Florida.  However, he also created the Foundation For Applied Molecular Evolution.  One of the research focuses of FFAME is stated on their website:

“We understand ourselves and the life around us by understanding how we came to be. The Foundation uses evolutionary analysis to ask why we are the way we are and how we might have been different.”

Essentially, Dr. Benner and FFAME are intimately involved in exploring how life could have arisen on earth spontaneously from a random mixture of chemicals, lightning strikes, and an occasional erupting volcano. Others have referred to this as a “primordial ooze”. However, I do not believe that the most important point about his theory is that Mars was the original source of the of organic chemicals required for life on earth. Instead, what I find important is that Dr. Benner believes that it would have been impossible for these vital organic chemicals to have spontaneously formed in the earth’s environment. Thus, the out-of-this-world Mars hypothesis.

Why not Earth?

No one knows how life started on Earth. No one witnessed the event. The Bible clearly states in Genesis 1 that God created the earth, the heavens, the sun and the moon, the stars, light, plants, animals, and man on the different days of Creation. However, many Christians, while professing faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, doubt the literal Creation account in Genesis, and instead believe that life could have evolved from scratch, from a primordial ooze, and subsequently evolved over millions of years. Dr. Benner is disputing this idea, stating instead that life must have come from outside of the earth.

Many scientists believe that the earth has long been covered with water, and water is actually an inhospitable environment for organic chemicals to arise.  “Most people think that water is essential for life. Very few people understand how corrosive water is”, Benner says. Scientists who believe that life started from scratch generally agree that RNA was the most vital compound to have originally, even before proteins. Water is extremely corrosive– to RNA, and bonds cannot be made within water, preventing long-strands from forming. RNA is similar to DNA, and is found in living cells and carries genetic information much like DNA does. However, proteins are formed directly from RNA rather than DNA in the cell. The problem of water being vital for life and yet preventing the formation of organic compounds is often referred to as the “Water Paradox”.

Another paradox is the “Tar Paradox”. Essentially, when building blocks of organic molecules are assembled to together and energy is added to the system, such as from lightning, a gooey tar-like substance results. This tar is completely incompatible with the formation of life, and is more suitable for paving roads.

How Mars fits In

Scientists like Dr. Benner have turned to Mars because it is thought that Mars was not completely covered with water, as was the earth.  Also, certain elements vital in the formation of organic compounds may have been more abundant on Mars – Boron and Molybdenum. Borate minerals apparently prevent organic molecules forming tar if they are incorporated into the molecules. Molybdate, a compound that consists of molybdenum and oxygen, takes these compounds that were stabilized by borate and catalyzes a reaction that leads to the formation of ribose, which is the backbone molecule of RNA.  It is thought that the early earth’s atmosphere would have been too oxygen poor for even molybdate to form, unlike the early Martian atmosphere. Dr. Benner summarizes in a discussion on NPR,

“And Mars, you know, you can get all the chemistry you want.  So this is actually an idea proposed by a geologist named Joe Kirschvink at Caltech. And so we discussed it and in front of the geologist, in fact, the guy who had invited me to give this lecture was the person publishing many, many papers saying that we could not have our chemistry on earth. But, you know, there is it, all opportune on Mars.”

Conclusions

In writing this article, I am not disputing the chemistry involved. But look at all of these historical assumptions that are made, including the past atmospheric composition of Mars and earth, the abundance of various elements which has not been verified, the amount of surface water of different planets in the past, and all of this just to create one molecule – ribose. Then, the ribose would have to be blasted off of the Martian surface by a volcano or meteor, make its way through the solar system to earth, descend through the earth’s atmosphere at incendiary speeds, crash onto the watery earth, and somehow exist in enough quantity to support the innumerable additional chemical reactions can then have to take place to make the building blocks of life.

Unfortunately for the scientific community, it looks like life did not arise spontaneously from scratch on either Mars or earth – Dr. Benner has just proven that. Personally, I am sticking with Genesis 1.

References

Did Life Come to Earth From Mars? Smithsonian Magazine.com, Surprising Science. , August 23, 2013

Earth Life Likely Came from Mars, Study Suggests Space.com. Mike Wall, senior writer, August 28, 2013

Goldschmidt Conference 2013 Goldschmidt Conference Abstracts, Planets, Minerals and Life’s Origin. Steven A. Benner, 2013

Life from Mars, NPR transcript September 6, 2013

Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution

Wikipedia contributors. Steven A. Benner. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. August 28, 2013, 14:38 UTC. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Steven_A._Benner&oldid=570537446. Accessed October 3, 2013.

 

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