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AnimalsNatureScience

How Did Life On Earth Get 'Kick-Started'? New Research Strengthens Case For Alkaline Hydrothermal Vents

What was it exactly that ‘kick-started’ life on the Earth? Perhaps an unknowable question — but new research is now adding further support to idea that life on Earth was kickstarted by some of the natural processes that occur at some of the alkaline hydrothermal vents at the bottom of world’s oceans.

"This image from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean shows a collection of limestone towers known as the "Lost City." Alkaline hydrothermal vents of this type are suggested to be the birthplace of the first living organisms on the ancient Earth. Scientists are interested in understanding early life on Earth because if we ever hope to find life on other worlds - especially icy worlds with subsurface oceans such as Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's Enceladus - we need to know what chemical signatures to look for." Image Credits: Image courtesy D. Kelley and M. Elend/University of Washington
“This image from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean shows a collection of limestone towers known as the “Lost City.” Alkaline hydrothermal vents of this type are suggested to be the birthplace of the first living organisms on the ancient Earth. Scientists are interested in understanding early life on Earth because if we ever hope to find life on other worlds – especially icy worlds with subsurface oceans such as Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus – we need to know what chemical signatures to look for.”
Image Credits: Image courtesy D. Kelley and M. Elend/University of Washington

The new research provides some new details “on the chemical and precursor metabolic reactions that have to take place to pave the pathway for life. The researchers describe how the interactions between the earliest oceans and alkaline hydrothermal fluids likely produced acetate (comparable to vinegar). The acetate is a product of methane and hydrogen from the alkaline hydrothermal vents and carbon dioxide dissolved in the surrounding ocean. Once this early chemical pathway was forged, acetate could become the basis of other biological molecules. They also describe how two kinds of ‘nano-engines’ that create organic carbon and polymers — energy currency of the first cells — could have been assembled from inorganic minerals.”

The research also analyzed “the structural similarity between the most ancient enzymes of life and minerals precipitated at these alkaline vents, an indication that the first life didn’t have to invent its first catalysts and engines.”

“Our work on alkaline hot springs on the ocean floor makes what we believe is the most plausible case for the origin of the life’s building blocks and its energy supply,” Russell stated. “Our hypothesis is testable, has the right assortment of ingredients and obeys the laws of thermodynamics.”

Three new studies on the research were published in the journals Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B and Biochimica et Biophysica Acta.




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