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Life 2015, 5(2), 1054-1100; doi:10.3390/life5021054

Prediction of the Maximum Temperature for Life Based on the Stability of Metabolites to Decomposition in Water

1,* , 2,†
Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Mass. Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, University of Cambridge, Tennis Court Road, Cambridge CB2 1QT, UK
These authors contributed equally to the research.
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: John A. Baross and Helga Stan-Lotter
Received: 30 January 2015 / Revised: 3 March 2015 / Accepted: 5 March 2015 / Published: 26 March 2015
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Physico-Chemical Limits of Life)
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The components of life must survive in a cell long enough to perform their function in that cell. Because the rate of attack by water increases with temperature, we can, in principle, predict a maximum temperature above which an active terrestrial metabolism cannot function by analysis of the decomposition rates of the components of life, and comparison of those rates with the metabolites’ minimum metabolic half-lives. The present study is a first step in this direction, providing an analytical framework and method, and analyzing the stability of 63 small molecule metabolites based on literature data. Assuming that attack by water follows a first order rate equation, we extracted decomposition rate constants from literature data and estimated their statistical reliability. The resulting rate equations were then used to give a measure of confidence in the half-life of the metabolite concerned at different temperatures. There is little reliable data on metabolite decomposition or hydrolysis rates in the literature, the data is mostly confined to a small number of classes of chemicals, and the data available are sometimes mutually contradictory because of varying reaction conditions. However, a preliminary analysis suggests that terrestrial biochemistry is limited to environments below ~150–180 °C. We comment briefly on why pressure is likely to have a small effect on this. View Full-Text
Keywords: thermophile; hyperthermophile; hydrolysis; decomposition; kinetics; metabolite; maximum temperature thermophile; hyperthermophile; hydrolysis; decomposition; kinetics; metabolite; maximum temperature

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Bains, W.; Xiao, Y.; Yu, C. Prediction of the Maximum Temperature for Life Based on the Stability of Metabolites to Decomposition in Water. Life 2015, 5, 1054-1100.

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