Ancient Earth: Why formamide may have been early life’s alternative to water


EXCERPT: An organic compound called formamide could have acted in place of water as a solvent (meaning it can dissolve molecules) in early life on Earth, according to new research describing how formamide could have formed when exposed to natural concentrations of radioactive elements.

Water is essential to life as we know it, from the oldest primitive single-celled organisms to the vast panoply of complex multicellular life existing today. Water dissolves the organic molecules that life needs, such as amino acids and sugars. Water also ferries nutrients in and out of cells, and helps cells to communicate with each other by carrying signaling molecules back and forth.

However, water has a dark side to it, known as the ‘Water Paradox’, in which water actually hydrolyzes, or breaks down, nucleic acids and proteins – the building blocks of life. So how could our single-celled ancestors have formed in the first place? Formamide may hold the key....


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