July 30, 2008 Diamonds may have been life's best friend. Billions of years ago, the surface of these gems may have provided just the right conditions to foster the chemical reactions believed to have given rise to life on Earth, researchers in Germany report.
Their study is scheduled for the August 6 issue of ACS' Crystal Growth & Design, a bi-monthly journal.
In the new study, Andrei Sommer, Dan Zhu, and Hans-Joerg Fecht point out that scientists have theorized for years that the chemical precursors of life gradually evolved from a so-called "primordial soup" of simpler molecules. But the details of how these simpler amino acids molecules, the building blocks of life, were assembled into complex polymers, remains one of science's long-standing mysteries.
To find out, the research team studied diamonds, crystallized forms of carbon which are older than the earliest forms of life on Earth. In a series of laboratory experiments, the scientists showed that after treatment with hydrogen, natural diamond forms crystalline layers of water on its surface, essential for the development of life, and involved in electrical conductivity. When primitive molecules landed on the surface of these hydrogenated diamonds in the atmosphere of early Earth, the resulting reaction may have been sufficient enough to generate more complex organic molecules that eventually gave rise to life, researchers say.
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- Sommer, Andrei P., Zhu, Dan, and Fecht, Hans-Joerg. Genesis on Diamonds. Cryst. Growth Des., 2008 DOI: 10.1021/cg8005037
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