Question: Could farts be responsible for the origin of life?
Short answer: Absolutely.
Long answer: A few weeks ago, we performed an experiment in which we attempted to store a fart in a jar. Despite some controversy, the experiment appears to have been successful, as the observed VOC levels remained more-or-less constant over the 7 days in which the jar remained sealed. We were not surprised by this outcome, as previous research has shown that hydrogen sulfide can be stored for time periods of at least 18 months (Benesch, Haouchine, and Jacksier, Anal. Chem., 2004).
Another person who stored hydrogen sulfide (H2S) for a long time was Dr. Stanley Miller, seen below in his laboratory. Dr. Miller is famous for his role in the Miller-Urey experiments, which sought to simulate the conditions under which life arose on Earth. Miller and Urey were able to generate a number of amino acids from inorganic components that were likely to have been present on Earth billions of years ago. These compounds could have arrived from meteorites or volcanoes and used lightning or ultraviolet light as an energy source. Miller and Urey simulated the energy input with electrical sparks, which prefigured the modern method of pyroflatulence.
One of Miller’s experiments involved H2S, but the resulting samples were stored and never analyzed. According to NASA, the reason that Miller never analyzed these samples was that he didn’t care for the smell, but a team of scientists examined them for the first time in 2008. The samples had remained well preserved for 50 years, and it turned out that the experiment had produced more than 20 sulfur-containing amino acids, some of which are necessary components of life. This yield was greater than what was found for other variations on the Miller-Urey experiment. So while farts cannot have been solely responsible for the origin of life, it does seem that they contain one of its key building blocks.
*Credit goes to Subject S for the title of this post.