Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Birthplace for primitive life on Earth? Researchers identify mud volcanoes in Greenland as niche for early life

Date:
October 26, 2011
Source:
CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange)
Summary:
The mud volcanoes at Isua, in south-west Greenland, have been identified as a possible birthplace for life on Earth by an international team headed by researchers. Almost four billion years ago, these volcanoes released chemical elements indispensable to the formation of the first biomolecules, under conditions favorable to life. It is the first time that such an environment, meeting all the requirements for the emergence of life, has been identified by scientists in 3.8-billion-year-old formations.

Serpentinites from Isua (Greenland).
Credit: © F. Albarède

The mud volcanoes at Isua, in south-west Greenland, have been identified as a possible birthplace for life on Earth by an international team headed by researchers from the Laboratoire de Géologie de Lyon: Terre, Planètes et Environnement (CNRS/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1/ENS de Lyon). Almost four billion years ago, these volcanoes released chemical elements indispensable to the formation of the first biomolecules, under conditions favorable to life. It is the first time that such an environment, meeting all the requirements for the emergence of life, has been identified by scientists in 3.8 billion year- old formations.

Related Articles


This work is published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Serpentinite is a dark green mineral used in decoration and jewelry. In nature, it is formed when sea water infiltrates into Earth's upper mantle, at depths that can reach 200 km in subduction zones. According to the scientists, this mineral, often found in the walls of hydrothermal sources, could play a major role in the appearance of the first biomolecules.

It has often been presumed that life developed near to hydrothermal sources known as black smokers(1), such as those found at the bottom of the oceans along mid-ocean ridges. The abundance of hydrogen, methane and ammonia produced by these underwater geysers seemed favorable to the emergence of primitive life. Unfortunately, these black smokers are very acid, which prevents amino-acid stabilization, and thus the formation of organic molecules.

The team of scientists publishing this article focused their studies on serpentinites from Isua, in south-west Greenland, which date from the start of the Archean(2). Dating back some 3.8 billion years, the rocks of Isua are some of the oldest in the world. Using isotopes of zinc as indicators of the basic or acid nature of an environment, the researchers highlighted the basic character of the thermal fluids that permeated the Isua serpentinites, thus demonstrating that these minerals formed a favorable environment for amino-acid stabilization.

The researchers also compared these serpentinites with recent equivalents from the mid-oceanic ridge of the Artic Ocean, the Alps and Mexico: the Isua rocks are markedly depleted in heavy isotopes of zinc compared to the latter. On the other hand, their zinc is isotopically similar to that from mud volcanoes of the Marianas Trench. Nearly four billion years ago, at a time when the continents only occupied a very small part of the surface area of the globe, the oceanic crust of Isua was permeated by basic hydrothermal fluids, rich in carbonates, and at temperatures ranging from 100 to 300°C. Phosphorus, another indispensable element to life, is abundant in environments where serpentinization takes place(3). As this process generates mud volcanoes, all the necessary conditions were gathered at Isua for organic molecules to form and be stable. The mud volcanoes at Isua thus represent a particularly favorable setting for the emergence of primitive terrestrial life.

Notes:

  1. Black smokers are located on oceanic ridges. The black appearance of the water stems from the color of the iron and manganese salts that it contains.
  2. The Archaen eon stretches between 4 and 2.5 billion years ago.
  3. Hydration process which enables the formation of serpentinite.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M.-L. Pons, G. Quitte, T. Fujii, M. T. Rosing, B. Reynard, F. Moynier, C. Douchet, F. Albarede. Early Archean serpentine mud volcanoes at Isua, Greenland, as a niche for early life. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1108061108

Cite This Page:

CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange). "Birthplace for primitive life on Earth? Researchers identify mud volcanoes in Greenland as niche for early life." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111025090340.htm>.
CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange). (2011, October 26). Birthplace for primitive life on Earth? Researchers identify mud volcanoes in Greenland as niche for early life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111025090340.htm
CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange). "Birthplace for primitive life on Earth? Researchers identify mud volcanoes in Greenland as niche for early life." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111025090340.htm (accessed November 28, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Friday, November 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Dinosaur Species Found in Museum Collection

New Dinosaur Species Found in Museum Collection

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 27, 2014) — A British palaeontologist has discovered a new species of dinosaur while studying fossils in a Canadian museum. Pentaceratops aquilonius was related to Triceratops and lived at the end of the Cretaceous Period, around 75 million years ago. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Reuters - Entertainment Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) — The iconic piano from "Casablanca" and the Cowardly Lion suit from "The Wizard of Oz" fetch millions at auction. Sara Hemrajani reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) — A multinational group of scientists have released the first ever detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice. Using an underwater robot equipped with sonar, the researchers mapped the underside of a massive area of sea ice to gauge the impact of climate change. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) — Media is calling it an "underwater Pompeii." Researchers have found ruins off the coast of Delos. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins