A major breakthrough for Oxford scientists as they identify the “secret ingredient” of life on Earth!

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Oxford scientists have made significant progress in understanding how life began on Earth, after discovering that iron is an essential element not only here but on other planets as well.

The researchers revealed that iron is an essential nutrient required for the growth and flourishing of almost all life on Earth. By mass alone, iron (Fe) is the most abundant chemical element on the planet and lags closely behind oxygen (O). It is also the fourth most common element in the Earth’s crust and makes up most of the planet’s inner and outer core.

It is believed that the amount of iron in the Earth’s mantle – a layer of silicate rock between the crust and the outer core – was “determined” by the conditions in which the planet formed about 4.5 billion years ago.

According to the Oxford team, this had “significant implications for how life evolved” on Earth.

Now researchers claim to have discovered a process by which iron helped shape the evolution of complex life forms.

The findings, published in the journal PNAS, may help scientists better understand the potential for alien life to develop on other rocky planets.

“The initial amount of iron in Earth’s rocks” is determined by planetary accretion conditions, during which Earth’s mineral core is separated from the rocky mantle, said John Wade, associate professor of planetary materials in the University of Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences.

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Iron conditions on Earth would initially help the planet retain its surface water – an essential building block for life, according to the researchers.

Iron could also have dissolved in seawater, meaning it was readily available for simple life to “grow into evolution”.

But that changed, about 2.4 billion years ago, during the so-called Great Oxygenation Event, when oxygen levels on the planet began to rise dramatically.

The abundant levels of oxygen reacted with the iron and made it less soluble, expelling gigatons of the element from the sea.

However, according to study co-author Hal Drakesmith, professor of iron biology at the MRC Weatherall Institute for Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford, life is still finding its way.

He said, “Life has had to find new ways to get the iron it needs. For example, infection, symbiosis, and multicellularity are behaviors that enable life to capture and use these rare and vital nutrients more efficiently. Early life is becoming more complex than ever, on its way to evolving into what we see around us today.”

According to the researchers, the need for iron as a driver for the subsequent evolution of organisms capable of attracting iron when resources are low, may be a very rare process.

Even worse, it could turn out to be completely random events and that would have an impact on the potential for complex life to develop on other planets.

Professor Draxsmith said: “It is not known how common intelligent life is in the universe. Our concepts mean that the conditions needed to support the initiation of simple life forms are also not sufficient to ensure the subsequent evolution of complex life forms. Further selection may be required through extreme environmental changes – on For example, how life on Earth needs to find a new way to access iron. Such time changes on a planetary scale may be rare, or random, which means that the probability of intelligent life may also be low.”

However, knowing how much iron is in the planet’s mantle may help scientists search for alien life, by eliminating more likely candidates capable of supporting life.

Source: Express



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