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In the Beginning

There are a couple of ways life on Earth might've emerged. As Newsweek reports, a new paper looks into two of the top RNA world theories using mathematical models.

A team of Canadian and German researchers modeled two scenarios: one in which an RNA world developed at deep ocean hydrothermal vents and one in which it began in small, warm ponds. As the team reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, they found that RNA polymers could have appeared some 4.17 billion years ago under the small, warm pond setting.

Small ponds would've been subject to period of dryness and periods of wetness, and this, the researchers say in their paper, would have promoted the polymerization of nucleobases into chains. Sea vents wouldn't have had that cyclical drying, they note.

They also add that because the dry periods would have also increased UV photodissociation, while the wet ones would have led to the loss of nucleobases, the conversion of nucleobases to RNA likely occurred quite quickly.

"This isn't happening in a couple ponds," author Ben Pearce from McMaster University adds at Newsweek. "This is actually happening in thousands of ponds, so there were thousands of opportunities" for life to emerge.

Others, however, tell Newsweek that just because a scenario is possible, doesn't mean that it is what occurred, and that thermal vents could still have been the first sites of life on Earth.