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Salt lake in BC could help understand origins of life on Earth

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Feb8,2024

A salt lake in BC could help understand the origins of life on Earth

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Soda lakes exist throughout the world, typically in arid and semi-arid areas and in relation to tectonic faults (Courtesy of David Catling)


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A new study from the journalCommunications Earth & Environmentquestions the origins of life on Earth. It turns out the answer may lie in a small lake in the interior of British Columbia.

Charles Darwin theorized that life could have emerged in a small, warm pond with the right mix of chemicals and energy.

This pond could be Last Chance Lake, only 30 centimeters deep and located about 150 kilometers northwest of Kamloops.

We're trying to answer to one of the biggest unanswered questions in science: where do we come from?, says David Catling, lead author of the study.

A recent study from the University of Washington (New window) showed that the lake had the ideal conditions to be what scientists call a cradle of life, i.e. a place where life could have emerged spontaneously billions of years ago.

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Most of the water in Last Chance Lake evaporates during the summer, forming a salt plain.

According to researchers, Last Chance Lake contains some key elements of this cocktail: It contains high levels of salt, minerals from the volcanic plain on which it sits – the Cariboo Plateau – and a very high concentration of phosphate. It is an essential element of DNA, and also a key component of cell membranes.

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But Catling says for life to thrive, phosphate concentrations need to be 100 to a million times higher than those normally found in bodies of water on Earth. /p>Open in full screen mode

A piece of salt crust is held by one of the researchers. You can see green algae in the middle, and black sediment at the bottom.

Although there are several bodies of water with high phosphate content on Earth, the team discovered that the Last Chance Lake had the highest concentrations ever recorded.

It was a bit of luck and perseverance that allowed us to find this information .

A quote from David Catling, lead author of the study

The team visited the lake three times in different seasons. She found that the lake freezes in winter and dries out to form a salt plain in late summer, when phosphate concentrations are highest. According to Catling, these high-phosphate lakes would have been more common on Earth about 4 billion years ago.

All seems to have taken place, notes the expert. What we thought was happening is actually happening.

Torah Kachur, science columnist for CBC/Radio-Canada, explains that the little warm pond theory is one of many attempts to explain the beginnings of life on Earth.

Another popular hypothesis is that life originated from high-pressure, mineral-dense hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor.

According to her, although lakes like the Last Chance do not have the same high pressure energy as a hydrothermal vent, they have all the necessary ingredients for x27;emergence of life. When Darwin suggests something – he was right about a lot of things – we add it to the list of what we need to study more, Ms. Kachur admits.

With information from Michelle Gomez

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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