Scripps Professor to Address the Debate About Hydrothermal Life Creation


For decades, scientists have debated the idea that deep sea hydrothermal vents, the "hot springs" of the oceans, may have been the birthplace of life on Earth.

Water that has filtered down deep into Earth’s hot crust comes to the surface, superheated and thought to be loaded with source chemicals for life at these hydrothermal vent locations. Furthermore, deep sea hydrothermal vents may have been protected from meteorite bombardment that could have made it difficult for very early life on the surface of Earth to survive

.However, there is more to the story, according to Gustaf Arrhenius, professor of oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California,San Diego. Arrhenius will discuss the pros and cons of hydrothermal life creation on Thurs., April 5 at the 221st American Chemical Society meeting in San Diego.

One of the basic problems with hydrothermal vent life creation, he says, is an inadequate mix of ingredients.

"There is a common belief that as soon as you find organic compounds life is bound to arise. But there is more needed than carbon-oxygen-hydrogen compounds. The solutions coming out from the seafloor are devoid of some of the most important ingredients for life–mainly nitrogen compounds that provide the chemical letters in the genetic alphabet. Furthermore it takes very specific enzymes and other complex molecules to protect RNA, proteins, and their source compounds against searing temperatures," said Arrhenius, a member of Scripps’s Marine Research Division.

"One can contrive possible ways out of these difficulties, but to be believable they have to be experimentally demonstrated. Most important, the origin of life is less about fabricating the inanimate carrier materials than about how to generate and imprint instructional information on them."

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