Missing Link Found? Study Reveals Potential Hot Spring Birthplace of Early Life

🔑 Key Findings:

  • Living cells may have originated from non-living material 3.5 billion years ago
  • The creation of fatty acids is critical for early cell development
  • Similar events may be happening on icy moons in our solar system

NEWCASTLE, United Kingdom — Can ancient hot springs unlock the mysterious origins of life on Earth? That’s what Newcastle University scientists are banking on. Their new research explores how the first living systems emerged from non-living geological materials over 3.5 billion years ago.

The team’s discovery involves the creation of organic molecules, including long-chain fatty acids, crucial components of early cell membranes. These findings potentially explain a key step in the formation of life on Earth billions of years ago, suggesting a plausible origin for the organic molecules essential to ancient cell membranes.

Fatty acids are lengthy organic molecules with regions that both attract and repel water, naturally forming cell-like compartments in water. These molecules are believed to have been instrumental in making the first cell membranes. However, the origin of these fatty acids in life’s early stages remained a mystery. Researchers at Newcastle University propose that these molecules could have formed in hydrothermal vents, where hydrogen-rich fluids from underwater vents mixed with seawater containing carbon dioxide.

Pamukkale Thermal Pools
Researchers propose that organic molecules could have formed in hydrothermal vents. (Photo by Kubilay Bal on Unsplash)

Replicating early Earth’s oceanic conditions in their lab, the team found that mixing hydrogen, bicarbonate, and iron-rich magnetite in a mild hydrothermal vent-like environment led to the formation of these vital molecules.

“Central to life’s inception are cellular compartments, crucial for isolating internal chemistry from the external environment. These compartments were instrumental in fostering life-sustaining reactions by concentrating chemicals and facilitating energy production, potentially serving as the cornerstone of life’s earliest moments,” says study lead author Dr. Graham Purvis, a postdoctoral research associate at Durham University, in a university release.

The study indicates that the interaction of hydrogen-rich fluids from alkaline hydrothermal vents with bicarbonate-rich waters on iron-based minerals could have precipitated the formation of early cell membranes. This process might have generated a variety of membrane types, some of which could have been the cradle of life as we know it.

3D rendering capturing the double helix structure of DNA against a blue backdrop, highlighting the intricate beauty of life's genetic code
Researchers believe the first living systems emerged from non-living geological materials over 3.5 billion years ago. (Credit: Unsplash/THAVIS 3D)

“We think that this research may provide the first step in how life originated on our planet,” says study principal investigator Dr. Jon Telling, reader in biogeochemistry at Newcastle University’s School of Natural Environmental Sciences, in a university release. “Research in our laboratory now continues on determining the second key step; how these organic molecules which are initially ‘stuck’ to the mineral surfaces can lift off to form spherical membrane-bounded cell-like compartments; the first potential ‘protocells’ that went on to form the first cellular life.”

Interestingly, the research also suggests that similar membrane-creating reactions might still be occurring in the oceans beneath the icy surfaces of moons in our solar system, hinting at the possibility of life’s origins in these distant worlds.

PIc of Ganymede, Jupiter's largest moon. It's beiged with splashes of white streaks across the surface.
This satellite image shows white streaks across the surface of Ganymede, the largest of Jupiter’s moons. The discovery of new types of salty ice could explain the material in these streaks and provide clues on the composition of Ganymede’s ice-covered ocean. (credit: NASA/JPL/JUNO)

This study not only provides insights into the genesis of life on Earth but also opens avenues for understanding the potential for life elsewhere in the universe.

The study is published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.

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Comments

  1. These benighted scientists are fools. They hate the idea of the supernatural God of the bible that they come up with this nonsense.
    By the way, where did the non-organic universe come from if not from God?

    1. It goes back even before that- hard core sci-fi authors knew and wrote about life starting in hydro-thermal vents as far back as the 60s. This site is getting as lazy as the rest of the sites.

    2. Agree… read this theory in a book written by a guy named Davies i believe back in the 1990s… I good science overview abd easy to read… forget the name of the book though…. Paul Davies I believe. Point is this is not a new theory. Perhaps more experimental evidence supports the idea but the idea is certainly not new.

  2. Thank you. Very interesting report. Perhaps you can attempt to replicate this life-beginning process by mixing these compounds in high concentrations & expose it to various controlled stimuli such as heat/cold , light, gases, vibration, and (?).

  3. Headline writer doesn’t know what “missing link” means. Its a reference to links in human evolution, not life in general, and certainly not a “link” from no life to life, which make it an even stupider headline.

  4. “Replicating early Earth’s oceanic conditions in their lab, the team found that mixing hydrogen, bicarbonate, and iron-rich magnetite in a mild hydrothermal vent-like environment led to the formation of these vital molecules.”

    OK, so first they are making a guess at what “early earth’s oceanic conditions were. Then they mixed in hydrogen, bicarbonate, and iron-rich magnetites to this.

    And then we’re told that this “COULD HAVE precipitated the formation of early cell membranes.” And that it “MIGHT HAVE generated a variety of membrane types, SOME OF WHICH COULD HAVE been the cradle of life as we know it.”

    “We THINK that this research MAY provide the FIRST STEP in how life originated on our planet,” says study principal investigator Dr. Jon Telling.”

    Well, if you ASSUME it happened by natural processes, you gotta start somewhere. This ignores so many of the problems with OoL. There is much conjecture that went into this experiment and whether what they got is at all meaningful is debatable, but at least they got something.

    1. It’s clear when you really look at the complexity of DNA which is a written language or code – it would be impossible to be formed randomly – God created the Heavens and the Earth as well as Life … no way it randomly happed – that requires more faith than believing in God and eternal spirit – the face space and time have no end also point to the existence of God — this whole evolution and trying to eliminate God from the equation is terrible and ignorant

      1. Do you have gaps in your understanding or knowledge? Well, why not fill them with God?!?

        Yes! The amazing “God” excuse allows you to compensate for lack of knowledge and understanding and completely ignore the big questions. You can provide unreasonable, irrational and unrealistic answers like “God did it”. You can provide answers without any thought or research and more!

        Amaze other gullible morons with your “god did it” reasoning. Call today!

  5. Came to the comments expecting to see some sort of creationist nonsense, and wasn’t disappointed.

    Do you have gaps in your understanding or knowledge? Well, why not fill them with God?!?

    Yes! The amazing “God” excuse allows you to compensate for lack of knowledge and understanding and completely ignore the big questions. You can provide unreasonable, irrational and unrealistic answers like “God did it”. You can provide answers without any thought or research and more!

    Amaze other gullible morons with your “god did it” reasoning. Call today!

  6. OK, so you can’t do it in a lab. There are still hydro thermal vents around the ocean floors. Go down there and prove the theory. Still waiting on the moon thing. Good luck, but It’s okay if you still need a little miracle to make the theory work, which is usually the case.

  7. Science stopped advancing at the end of the 90s, since then corporations have kept the cutting edge science out of public books and venues. Its how they pulled the scamdemic since pretty much nobody knew or remembered that coronavirus was the viral genotype for what we called the common cold. Give it a new name and redact all prior info and people have to either do their own research or defer to the people claiming to be experts and obey.

    Past time for accountability and prosecutions.

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