ASTRONOMICAL BODIES, 2010

in collaboration with Dr Terence Kee and team at the University of Leeds.
with special thanks to Katie Marriott, EPSRC, NESTA and the Royal College of Art.

ASTRONOMICAL BODIES - Synopsis

When considering the origins of life we face a dilemma. All essential chemicals to start life existed on early Earth except a suitable form of phosphorus. We consume phosphate in food and drink, we mine phosphate rock from the ground to use as a fertiliser in food production. Phosphate is an essential structural material in biology found in the cell membrane, bone and teeth. It is found in ATP, the energy molecule of the body and is a main component of RNA and DNA.

It passes through our body everyday, is found in our urine and accumulates into kidney stones. However, Earth’s native phosphate was largely insoluble and un-reactive to kick-start life. So before life subsequently evolved to use this resource, what came before and how did this chemical get into biology?

Dr Terence Kee and his research team at Leeds University propose a reactive form of phosphorus arrived during the bombardment period of Earth in meteorites. These extraterrestrial chemicals called phosphonates and phosphinates, although related to phosphate are more soluble and chemically reactive. Water and lightening could have unlocked this vital phosphorus to enable pre-biotic life.

These proposed origins of life place our existence not in planetary isolation but as a natural element of a bio-friendly universe. They redefine us as astro-biological products and reveal the universe as incubating life. As a potentially common distribution mechanism of chemicals through meteorites, could we help facilitate the natural colonisation of space with life?

In reaction to the importance of phosphorus in the origins of life on Earth, the design proposes the recovery of phosphate from our bodies in urine to create meteorites to distribute biological chemicals to hospitable celestial bodies like Europa. Then over to life to self-assemble, evolve and spread.

 

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