A recent paper from Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists published in Geophysical Research Letters reveals that another ingredient for life has been found on Mars: boron.
The data was sent by Curiosity, a rover exploring the Gale Crater on the red planet. Patrick Gasda, the lead author of the study and postdoctoral research associate at Los Alamos National Laboratory explained:
“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.”
RNA (ribonucleic acid) is the blueprint for life; some simple creatures rely on it alone for their genetic material, and the DNA of more complex life, like humans, needs it to form.
RNA itself needs ribose sugar to develop, but this is difficult because it dissolves easily in water; usually, this means that it will disappear before RNA has a chance to form, let alone develop into anything interesting.
Why Is Borate So Important?
In comes borates, which are mixtures of boron in water. It stabilizes the ribose sugar, allowing RNA to form. Without it, life would not have been able to develop on Earth, nor presumably could it come about anywhere else in the universe.
According to Gasda, the borates found on the red planet seem to be about 3.8 billion years old, younger than the estimated development of life on Earth. They were found in calcium sulfate mineral veins, which means that they were part of the groundwater that theoretically could have made life possible.
The walls of the crater will soon be investigated to see if the precious element flowed into the water from there; if so, it could provide further clues to when life may have developed.
Curiosity will soon be joined by new projects SHERLOC and SuperCam to help with its mission.