The facts & the project
To reconstitute digitally the emergence of life on Earth by following, step by step, the formation of organic molecules… That was the challenge accepted by Professors Marco Saitta (Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France) and Franz Saija (lstituto per i Processi Chimico-Fisici/CNR, Italy).
Following atomic scale simulations on GENCI’s computers, Jade at Cines and Ada at Idris and using 1.2 million hours, the two physicists were able to observe how glycine, the simplest amino acid involved in neurotransmissions at the level of the spinal cord, spontaneously formed out of the “soup” of simple molecules (water, methane, ammoniac, hydrogen, nitrogen and carbon monoxide) when subjected to intense electrical ﬁelds. They also identiﬁed the reactional mechanisms involved and determined the conditions necessary forthese reactions.
This was the ﬁrst numerical simulation in the world of Stanley Miller’s experience led in 1953, which has demonstrated the possibility of the spontaneous formation of living molecules from simple molecules, under the impulse of an electrical discharge.
Published in the prestigious PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) revue in September 2014, this work, subject of a great deal of media attention in France and abroad, has helped highlight the contribution of numerical simulation to quantum chemistry. It opens new perspectives in understanding the mechanisms and conditions for the formation of prebiotic molecules, at the origin of the precursors of life.