Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How did Earth's primitive chemistry get kick started?

Date:
July 30, 2013
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
How did life on Earth get started? Three new papers strengthen the case that Earth's first life began at alkaline hydrothermal vents at the bottom of oceans. 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.

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.
Credit: Image courtesy D. Kelley and M. Elend/University of Washington

How did life on Earth get started? Three new papers co-authored by Mike Russell, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., strengthen the case that Earth's first life began at alkaline hydrothermal vents at the bottom of oceans. 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.

Related Articles


Two papers published recently in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B provide more detail on the chemical and precursor metabolic reactions that have to take place to pave the pathway for life. Russell and his co-authors 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.

A paper published in the journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta analyzes 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 said. "Our hypothesis is testable, has the right assortment of ingredients and obeys the laws of thermodynamics."

Russell's work was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute through the Icy Worlds team based at JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. The NASA Astrobiology Institute, based at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is a partnership among NASA, 15 U.S. teams and 13 international consortia. The Institute is part of NASA's astrobiology program, which supports research into the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. M. J. Russell, W. Nitschke, E. Branscomb. The inevitable journey to being. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2013; 368 (1622): 20120254 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2012.0254
  2. W. Nitschke, M. J. Russell. Beating the acetyl coenzyme A-pathway to the origin of life. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2013; 368 (1622): 20120258 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2012.0258
  3. Elbert Branscomb, Michael J. Russell. Turnstiles and bifurcators: The disequilibrium converting engines that put metabolism on the road. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Bioenergetics, 2013; 1827 (2): 62 DOI: 10.1016/j.bbabio.2012.10.003

Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "How did Earth's primitive chemistry get kick started?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 July 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130730235542.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2013, July 30). How did Earth's primitive chemistry get kick started?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130730235542.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "How did Earth's primitive chemistry get kick started?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130730235542.htm (accessed October 30, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dracula's Dungeon May Have Been Found in Turkey

Dracula's Dungeon May Have Been Found in Turkey

AP (Oct. 29, 2014) — Historians think they may have discovered a dungeon in Turkey where the Romanian prince who inspired Count Dracula was once held captive. (Oct. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Doesn't Prove Megalodons Are Extinct, Never Needed To

Study Doesn't Prove Megalodons Are Extinct, Never Needed To

Newsy (Oct. 27, 2014) — How and why a study about when the giant prehistoric shark Megalodon went extinct got picked up as "proof" that it is. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
One-of-a-Kind BMW 507 Boat Found After 6 Decades

One-of-a-Kind BMW 507 Boat Found After 6 Decades

Buzz60 (Oct. 27, 2014) — BMW made just one BMW 507 boat, but it was lost for decades until a young man found and restored it. TC Newman (@PurpleTCNewman) shows the gorgeous boat! Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) — Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
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:

More Coverage


Cracking How Life Arose on Earth May Help Clarify Where Else It Might Exist

July 30, 2013 — A novel and potentially testable theory of how life arose on Earth advanced over 25 years ago by Michael Russell, research scientist in planetary chemistry and astrobiology, NASA Jet Propulsion ... read more

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