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Article

Scum of the Earth: A Hypothesis for Prebiotic Multi-Compartmentalised Environments

1
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3EQ, UK
2
Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 OHA, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Bruce Damer
Life 2021, 11(9), 976; https://doi.org/10.3390/life11090976
Received: 15 July 2021 / Revised: 4 September 2021 / Accepted: 14 September 2021 / Published: 16 September 2021
Compartmentalisation by bioenergetic membranes is a universal feature of life. The eventual compartmentalisation of prebiotic systems is therefore often argued to comprise a key step during the origin of life. Compartments may have been active participants in prebiotic chemistry, concentrating and spatially organising key reactants. However, most prebiotically plausible compartments are leaky or unstable, limiting their utility. Here, we develop a new hypothesis for an origin of life environment that capitalises upon, and mitigates the limitations of, prebiotic compartments: multi-compartmentalised layers in the near surface environment—a ’scum’. Scum-type environments benefit from many of the same ensemble-based advantages as microbial biofilms. In particular, scum layers mediate diffusion with the wider environments, favouring preservation and sharing of early informational molecules, along with the selective concentration of compatible prebiotic compounds. Biofilms are among the earliest traces imprinted by life in the rock record: we contend that prebiotic equivalents of these environments deserve future experimental investigation. View Full-Text
Keywords: prebiotic chemistry; early Earth; origin of life prebiotic chemistry; early Earth; origin of life
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MDPI and ACS Style

Walton, C.R.; Shorttle, O. Scum of the Earth: A Hypothesis for Prebiotic Multi-Compartmentalised Environments. Life 2021, 11, 976. https://doi.org/10.3390/life11090976

AMA Style

Walton CR, Shorttle O. Scum of the Earth: A Hypothesis for Prebiotic Multi-Compartmentalised Environments. Life. 2021; 11(9):976. https://doi.org/10.3390/life11090976

Chicago/Turabian Style

Walton, Craig Robert, and Oliver Shorttle. 2021. "Scum of the Earth: A Hypothesis for Prebiotic Multi-Compartmentalised Environments" Life 11, no. 9: 976. https://doi.org/10.3390/life11090976

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