NEWCASTLE, United Kingdom — Can ancient hot springs unlock the mysterious origins of life on Earth? That’s what Newcastle University scientists are banking on. Their new research explores how the first living systems emerged from non-living geological materials over 3.5 billion years ago.
Replicating early Earth’s oceanic conditions in their lab, the team found that mixing hydrogen, bicarbonate, and iron-rich magnetite in a mild hydrothermal vent-like environment led to the formation of these vital molecules.
“Central to life’s inception are cellular compartments, crucial for isolating internal chemistry from the external environment. These compartments were instrumental in fostering life-sustaining reactions by concentrating chemicals and facilitating energy production, potentially serving as the cornerstone of life’s earliest moments,” says study lead author Dr. Graham Purvis, a postdoctoral research associate at Durham University, in a university release.
The study indicates that the interaction of hydrogen-rich fluids from alkaline hydrothermal vents with bicarbonate-rich waters on iron-based minerals could have precipitated the formation of early cell membranes. This process might have generated a variety of membrane types, some of which could have been the cradle of life as we know it.