From the mightiest blue whale to the most miniscule paramecium, life together we understand it take away dramatically different forms. Nonetheless, every organisms are constructed from the very same six crucial elemental ingredients: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and also sulfur (CHNOPS).

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Why those elements? To uncover out, Life"s little Mysteries consulted Matthew Pasek, a biogeochemist at the university of southern Florida.

"First off, carbon enters conveniently into binding with other carbon atoms. This way it forms huge chains that act as a nice skeleton for various other atoms to bond to," Pasek said. In various other words, carbon atoms room the perfect structure blocks for huge organic molecules. "This lends itself to complexity."

But what explains the other 5 chemical ingredient of life? "One point that renders nitrogen, hydrogen and also oxygen good is the they"re abundant," Pasek said. "They likewise exhibit acid-base effects, which enables them come bond through carbon to make amino acids, fats, lipids and the nucleobases native which DNA and also RNA room built."

"Sulfur gives electron shuffle," Pasek continued. "Basically, through their surplus of electrons, sulfides and also sulfates aid catalyze reactions. Part organisms use selenium in location of sulfur in their enzymes, however not many."

Last but not least, phosphorus, usually found in the molecule phosphate, is crucial to metabolism, due to the fact that polyphosphate molecule such together ATP (adenosine triphosphate) room able to save a vast amount of energy in your chemical bonds. Break the shortcut releases that is energy; do this enough times in, say, a team of muscle cells, and you have the right to move her arm.

Late last year, NASA scientists found the only known exemption to the phosphorus need in one arsenic-rich California lake. They uncovered a strain of microbes may be to substitute arsenic atoms because that phosphorus in your molecules when supplies the phosphorus space low. Arsenic is chemically similar to phosphorus, making the poisonous to many life forms because it disrupts metabolic pathways.

In summary, "With a couple of exceptions, what you need for life is CHNOPS, plus a dash the salt and also a few metals," Pasek said. "Of course, those ingredients do need to be in the exactly bonding structure, but this appears to take place naturally. Amino acids happen spontaneously, as carry out sugars and lipids and also nucleobases."

That"s true, at least, ~ above Earth. Because that the crucial molecular frameworks to form, a planet should be just the ideal distance native its sunlight it can"t it is in too hot or too cold for liquid water to exist. Having an numerous supply that water also helps, due to the fact that it renders it easier for the ingredient to move around and bump right into each various other to form interesting compounds. Gravity have to be just right, too. Finally, a dash that lightning can carry out the much-needed energy to catalyze a reaction that will ultimately lead to the production of the facility moleculesamino acids, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, RNA and DNAthat lend themselves to creating life. At the very least as we recognize it.

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Natalie Wolchover to be a staff writer because that Live scientific research from 2010 to 2012. She hold a bachelor"s level in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the university of California, Berkeley. Follow Natalie ~ above Google+.