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Soda Lake and the Origin of Life

Facts for Prelims (FFP)



 Context: Scientists from the University of Washington discovered a shallow “soda lake,” Lake Chance, in Canada, resembling Darwin’s “warm little ponds” that might have initiated life on Earth.

These soda lakes, containing high levels of dissolved carbonates, sodium, and phosphates, address the long-standing “phosphate problem” in the emergence of life. While conventional bodies of water have low phosphate levels, soda lakes, like Last Chance Lake in Canada, show concentrations up to 1 million times higher. The study suggests that such environments, prevalent on early Earth, could also be common on other planets, aiding origin-of-life research and the search for habitable conditions beyond our solar system.


About Darwin’s “warm little ponds” hypothesis:

It proposes that life on Earth may have originated in shallow bodies of water with high temperatures, where complex molecules could spontaneously form. These ponds, resembling soda lakes, could provide the ideal conditions for the synthesis of key biomolecules


What is the “phosphate problem”?

It refers to a challenge in theories about the emergence of life on Earth. RNA and DNA, crucial molecules for life, as well as the membranes of living cells, require a backbone of naturally occurring molecules of the element phosphorus, known as phosphates. However, concentrations of phosphates needed to form these biomolecules in laboratory experiments are up to 1 million times higher than the levels normally found in rivers, lakes, or oceans. This disparity between required and naturally occurring phosphate levels poses a hurdle in understanding how life’s essential building blocks could have formed under natural conditions on Earth.


About Last Chance Lake:

It is a shallow, murky soda lake in British Columbia, Canada. It’s located on federal land and sits above volcanic rock.