Cyanide Could Have Helped Start Life on Earth Billions of Years Ago, New Study Finds


Popular culture has taught us that this chemical compound is seriously toxic and should be used only if you’re a spy whose cover is exposed or someone who badly wants to become rich at the expense of an aged relation. In reality, many forms of cyanide are used in medicine, food and mining.A group of international scientists have claimed that cyanide could have helped start life on Earth billions of years ago. Some bacteria on our planet use a series of chemical reactions known as the reverse tricarboxylic acid cycle (r-TCA cycle). The chemical reactions in question involve carbon monoxide and water, which are then turned into chemical compounds that are central to life.

However, r-TCA needs proteins which, in the early days of Earth, did not exist. According to the findings of the new study, published in the journal Nature, researchers from the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California decided to use cyanide since the Carbon-Nitrogen chemical compound was present in our planet’s atmosphere during its early stages. The test turned out to be successful.

"It was scary how simple it was. We really didn't have to do anything special, we mixed together these molecules, waited and the reaction happened spontaneously,” said Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, an associate professor of chemistry at the institute and lead author of the study.

According Professor Krishnamurthy, the results of their study could not only give researchers more insight into how life evolved on Earth, but may also help astronomers in their attempt to find extraterrestrial life.

"There could be life that evolves from this cyanide-based chemistry. When we look for signs of life — either on early Earth or on other planets — we base the search on the biochemistry we know exists in life today. The fact that these same metabolic reactions can be driven by cyanide shows that life can be very different", he said.


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