In Search for the RNA World on Mars

Zuber Lab & Szostak Lab

Advances in origins of life research and prebiotic chemistry suggest that life as we know it may have emerged from an earlier RNA World. However, it has been difficult to reconcile laboratory experiments with real-world geochemical environments that may have existed on the early Earth and hosted the origin of life. This challenge is primarily due to geologic resurfacing that has erased the overwhelming majority of the Earth’s prebiotic history. We therefore propose that Mars, a planet frozen in time preserving primordial surfaces that have remained relatively unchanged since the planet accreted ~4.5 Gya, is the next best alternative to search for environments consistent with geochemical requirements imposed by the RNA world.

In this study we have synthesized in situ and satellite observations from Mars and modeling of its early atmosphere in order to construct analog solutions containing a range of pHs and prebiotic metals (Fe2+, Mg2+, and Mn2+) that span various aqueous environments. Our goal is to experimentally determine the stability and degradation kinetics of RNA in our analog solutions to test whether early Mars was permissive towards the accumulation of long-lived RNA polymers which may have precipitated life via the RNA World hypothesis.