Element important for life found in Mars' Gale Crater

The element was discovered in mineral veins composed of calcium sulfate, which could have been produced by surface water billions of years ago.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Sep 11, 2017
NASA's Curiosity rover has detected boron, an element important in the creation of life's building blocks, in Mars' Gale Crater, which it has been exploring since it landed there in 2012.

Boron plays an important role in the formation of ribonucleic acid or RNA, a single-strand nucleic acid important for the decoding and expression of genetic material in all life forms.

The element was discovered in mineral veins composed of calcium sulfate, which could have been produced by surface water billions of years ago.

If ancient Gale Crater once hosted liquid water, the site could have been an environment conducive to the formation and evolution of microbial life.

"Because borates may play an important role in making RNA--one of the building blocks of life--finding boron on Mars further opens the possibility that life could have once arisen on the planet," noted Patrick Gasda of Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and lead author of a study on the findings published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"Borates are one possible bridge from simple organic molecules to RNA. Without RNA, you have no life. The presence of boron tells us that, if organics were present on Mars, these chemical reactions could have occurred."

Scientists hypothesize that the earliest life forms were composed of RNA strands that contained genetic material and had the capability of reproducing themselves.

Boron stabilizes ribose, a sugar found within RNA. When present in water, it dissolves and reacts with the ribose, keeping it from disintegrating.

"We detected borates in a crater on Mars that's 3.8 billion years old, younger than the likely formation of life on Earth," Gasda said.

"Essentially, this tells us that the conditions from which life could have potentially grown may have existed on ancient Mars, independent from Earth."

 

---

Have something to say? Let us know in the comments section or send an email to the author. You can share ideas for stories by contacting us here.

Comments
Comments should take into account that readers may hold different opinions. With that in mind, please make sure comments are respectful, insightful, and remain focused on the article topic.