Special Issue "Geochemistry and the Origin of Life"

A special issue of Life (ISSN 2075-1729). This special issue belongs to the section "Chemistry".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 May 2018)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. André Brack

Centre de biophysique moléculaire, CNRS, Orléans, France
E-Mail
Phone: +33 2 38 25 55 76
Interests: prebiotic chemistry; origin of life; search for life in the Universe

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue will be dedicated to the origin of life in its geochemical environment. In addition to liquid water and organic molecules, specific environmental components and conditions were essential for the origin of life, i.e., phosphate, reactive rocks and minerals bathed by warm to hot hydrothermal fluids. Early Earth was not a perfect chemical laboratory for organic reactions, and thus prebiotic chemistry must embrace realistic geological scenarios. There are three critical steps leading towards primitive life: (1) concentration of the molecular components participating in prebiotic reactions and control of water activity, (2) stabilization and structural conformation of molecules, and (3) chemical evolution through complexification. In addition to new results in classical prebiotic chemistry and in comprehensive evaluation of the Hadean mineralogy, special attention will be paid to experimental data showing that the aforementioned processes are greatly aided by the presence of mineral surfaces. The present Special Issue aims to underline the importance of the mineral world for prebiotic chemistry and the emergence of life, opening fresh avenues for scientists to explore.

Dr. André Brack
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • origin of life
  • prebiotic chemistry
  • geochemical environment
  • hydrothermal fluids
  • hadean mineralogy
  • mineral surface
  • chemistry on the rocks

Published Papers (3 papers)

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Review

Open AccessReview Serpentinization: Connecting Geochemistry, Ancient Metabolism and Industrial Hydrogenation
Received: 27 August 2018 / Revised: 18 September 2018 / Accepted: 20 September 2018 / Published: 22 September 2018
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (2862 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Rock–water–carbon interactions germane to serpentinization in hydrothermal vents have occurred for over 4 billion years, ever since there was liquid water on Earth. Serpentinization converts iron(II) containing minerals and water to magnetite (Fe3O4) plus H2. The hydrogen [...] Read more.
Rock–water–carbon interactions germane to serpentinization in hydrothermal vents have occurred for over 4 billion years, ever since there was liquid water on Earth. Serpentinization converts iron(II) containing minerals and water to magnetite (Fe3O4) plus H2. The hydrogen can generate native metals such as awaruite (Ni3Fe), a common serpentinization product. Awaruite catalyzes the synthesis of methane from H2 and CO2 under hydrothermal conditions. Native iron and nickel catalyze the synthesis of formate, methanol, acetate, and pyruvate—intermediates of the acetyl-CoA pathway, the most ancient pathway of CO2 fixation. Carbon monoxide dehydrogenase (CODH) is central to the pathway and employs Ni0 in its catalytic mechanism. CODH has been conserved during 4 billion years of evolution as a relic of the natural CO2-reducing catalyst at the onset of biochemistry. The carbide-containing active site of nitrogenase—the only enzyme on Earth that reduces N2—is probably also a relic, a biological reconstruction of the naturally occurring inorganic catalyst that generated primordial organic nitrogen. Serpentinization generates Fe3O4 and H2, the catalyst and reductant for industrial CO2 hydrogenation and for N2 reduction via the Haber–Bosch process. In both industrial processes, an Fe3O4 catalyst is matured via H2-dependent reduction to generate Fe5C2 and Fe2N respectively. Whether serpentinization entails similar catalyst maturation is not known. We suggest that at the onset of life, essential reactions leading to reduced carbon and reduced nitrogen occurred with catalysts that were synthesized during the serpentinization process, connecting the chemistry of life and Earth to industrial chemistry in unexpected ways. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Geochemistry and the Origin of Life)
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Open AccessReview Geochemistry and the Origin of Life: From Extraterrestrial Processes, Chemical Evolution on Earth, Fossilized Life’s Records, to Natures of the Extant Life
Received: 10 August 2018 / Revised: 15 September 2018 / Accepted: 17 September 2018 / Published: 20 September 2018
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (3630 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In 2001, the first author (S.N.) led the publication of a book entitled “Geochemistry and the origin of life” in collaboration with Dr. Andre Brack aiming to figure out geo- and astro-chemical processes essential for the emergence of life. Since then, a great [...] Read more.
In 2001, the first author (S.N.) led the publication of a book entitled “Geochemistry and the origin of life” in collaboration with Dr. Andre Brack aiming to figure out geo- and astro-chemical processes essential for the emergence of life. Since then, a great number of research progress has been achieved in the relevant topics from our group and others, ranging from the extraterrestrial inputs of life’s building blocks, the chemical evolution on Earth with the aid of mineral catalysts, to the fossilized records of ancient microorganisms. Here, in addition to summarizing these findings for the origin and early evolution of life, we propose a new hypothesis for the generation and co-evolution of photosynthesis with the redox and photochemical conditions on the Earth’s surface. Besides these bottom-up approaches, we introduce an experimental study on the role of water molecules in the life’s function, focusing on the transition from live, dormant, and dead states through dehydration/hydration. Further spectroscopic studies on the hydrogen bonding behaviors of water molecules in living cells will provide important clues to solve the complex nature of life. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Geochemistry and the Origin of Life)
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Figure 1

Open AccessReview Green Rust: The Simple Organizing ‘Seed’ of All Life?
Received: 6 June 2018 / Revised: 28 June 2018 / Accepted: 14 August 2018 / Published: 27 August 2018
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (2167 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Korenaga and coworkers presented evidence to suggest that the Earth’s mantle was dry and water filled the ocean to twice its present volume 4.3 billion years ago. Carbon dioxide was constantly exhaled during the mafic to ultramafic volcanic activity associated with magmatic plumes [...] Read more.
Korenaga and coworkers presented evidence to suggest that the Earth’s mantle was dry and water filled the ocean to twice its present volume 4.3 billion years ago. Carbon dioxide was constantly exhaled during the mafic to ultramafic volcanic activity associated with magmatic plumes that produced the thick, dense, and relatively stable oceanic crust. In that setting, two distinct and major types of sub-marine hydrothermal vents were active: ~400 °C acidic springs, whose effluents bore vast quantities of iron into the ocean, and ~120 °C, highly alkaline, and reduced vents exhaling from the cooler, serpentinizing crust some distance from the heads of the plumes. When encountering the alkaline effluents, the iron from the plume head vents precipitated out, forming mounds likely surrounded by voluminous exhalative deposits similar to the banded iron formations known from the Archean. These mounds and the surrounding sediments, comprised micro or nano-crysts of the variable valence FeII/FeIII oxyhydroxide known as green rust. The precipitation of green rust, along with subsidiary iron sulfides and minor concentrations of nickel, cobalt, and molybdenum in the environment at the alkaline springs, may have established both the key bio-syntonic disequilibria and the means to properly make use of them—the elements needed to effect the essential inanimate-to-animate transitions that launched life. Specifically, in the submarine alkaline vent model for the emergence of life, it is first suggested that the redox-flexible green rust micro- and nano-crysts spontaneously precipitated to form barriers to the complete mixing of carbonic ocean and alkaline hydrothermal fluids. These barriers created and maintained steep ionic disequilibria. Second, the hydrous interlayers of green rust acted as engines that were powered by those ionic disequilibria and drove essential endergonic reactions. There, aided by sulfides and trace elements acting as catalytic promoters and electron transfer agents, nitrate could be reduced to ammonia and carbon dioxide to formate, while methane may have been oxidized to methyl and formyl groups. Acetate and higher carboxylic acids could then have been produced from these C1 molecules and aminated to amino acids, and thence oligomerized to offer peptide nests to phosphate and iron sulfides, and secreted to form primitive amyloid-bounded structures, leading conceivably to protocells. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Geochemistry and the Origin of Life)
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