Special Issue "Minerals and Origins of Life"
A special issue of Life (ISSN 2075-1729).
Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 August 2018).
Interests: reactivity of biomolecules at interfaces (identification of adsorption sites on oxide surfaces); adsorption of small biological molecules; prebiotic chemistry; intercalation-bridging of lamellar structures (PILS); nanocomposite materials
2. Sorbonne Université, 75005 Paris, France
Interests: clays and their hybrid derivatives; nanocomposites materials; reactivity of biomolecules on oxide surfaces; materials synthesis and characterization; nanomaterials; prebiotic chemistry; fossilisation; cultural heritage; historical pigments
When life arose on our planet, a complex mineral world was already present and certainly interacted with the first biomolecules, for better or for worse. This interaction involved their surfaces which are the obligate zone of contact with the outside world. How it channeled chemical evolution has been the subject of much speculation; specific roles for minerals have been invoked for the emergence of the three main distinguishing features of life: Information storage, metabolism, and compartmentalization.
At one time, the provocative idea was put forward that clays, not only guided the first steps toward life, but actually were the first living organisms, storing information in the sequence of their layers. While there is little evidence for this far-reaching claim, mineral surfaces may have supplied selectivity in adsorption and/or polymerization, thus selecting a subset in the space of possible proteins and nucleic acids. A lot remains to be understood concerning the molecular structure of relevant surfaces and the precise mechanisms of their interactions with biomolecules.
As regards the emergence of metabolic activity, mineral surfaces are well-known as catalysts (industrial heterogeneous catalysis), but they can also have played the role of alternate reaction media, offering thermochemical conditions different from those in solution, and allowing to harness macroscopic gradients and cyclical variations in temperature and humidity to produce the molecular-level imbalances that are characteristic of life. This includes the storage of chemical energy in the form of molecular-scale concentration gradients, one of the most original features of bioenergetics, and the appearance of proto-metabolic cycles including reactions with mineral surfaces, some vestigial remains of which could perhaps still be found in metabolism.
Minerals may also have played a role in compartmentalization, opposing the deadly drive to dilution that would otherwise have destroyed emerging prebiotic systems. Any type of adsorption has the potential to maintain high local concentration, but the micro-, meso-, and macroporosity of minerals from zeolite to pumice, and the tunable porosity of clay minerals, seem most attractive in this respect.
In this Special Issue, we wish to invite contributions, in the form of both experimental studies and theoretical reflections, on the implication of the mineral world in these crucial aspects of the emergence of life, and the integration of such steps in plausible origins scenarios.Dr. Jean-Francois Lambert
Dr. Maguy Jaber
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- heterogeneous catalysis
- oxide minerals
- sulfide minerals