Ocean Heat May Have Triggered Evolution Of Life

Using computational tools, a research group in India has found that basic chemical reactions producing precursors of proteins and RNA could be driven by heat from the ocean.

AsianScientist (Sep. 11, 2019) – Many mysteries surround the evolution of complex life on Earth. In a study published in ACS Central Science, scientists in India have uncovered a piece of the puzzle by showing that small molecules, reacting under heat from the ocean, could give rise to the fundamental building blocks of living organisms.

A famous experiment in 1953—the Urey-Miller experiment—showed that amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, could have formed spontaneously under the atmospheric conditions of early Earth. However, doubts remained over whether energy from lightning or sunlight was sufficient to overcome the energy barrier between molecules and trigger chemical reactions.

Now, researchers led by Dr. Kumar Vanka at the CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory, India, have demonstrated that heat from the oceans could be the energy source for spontaneous chemical reactions. The researchers used a computational tool called the ab initio nanoreactor to simulate how mixtures of molecules can collide and react, forming new molecules.

They found that reactions between hydrogen cyanide, which condensed into oceans from the early Earth’s atmosphere, and water did not require a lot of energy or metal catalysts to react. In fact, the simulations showed that the interactions were both thermodynamically and kinetically feasible under heat from the ocean.

The team also noted that interactions between hydrogen cyanide and water could create the molecules necessary to produce the amino acid glycine and the precursors of RNA. The simulations revealed interesting new potential pathways for the formation of life on Earth, the researchers said.

The article can be found at: Das et al. (2019) Insights Into the Origin of Life: Did It Begin from HCN and H2O?.


Source: American Chemical Society; Photo: Shutterstock.
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