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New Research Rejects 80-Year Theory of 'Primordial Soup' as the Origin of Life

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steven johnson Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-03-10 08:10 PM
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New Research Rejects 80-Year Theory of 'Primordial Soup' as the Origin of Life
The latest theory on the origin of life on earth is that it arose from microscopic natural caverns at hydrothermal vents on the seabed. These microscopic mineral 'cells' has the normal electrochemical gradient that all living cells possess: negative on the inside and positive on the outside. This gradient combined with an energys source is hypothesized to have given rise to our complex carbon-oxygen-hydrogen-sulfur-nitrogen metabolism that underlies metabolism and nucleotide genetic transmission of protein synthesis and reproduction.



For 80 years it has been accepted that early life began in a 'primordial soup' of organic molecules before evolving out of the oceans millions of years later. Today the 'soup' theory has been over turned in a pioneering paper in BioEssays which claims it was the Earth's chemical energy, from hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, which kick-started early life.

In rejecting the soup theory the team turned to the Earth's chemistry to identify the energy source which could power the first primitive predecessors of living organisms: geochemical gradients across a honeycomb of microscopic natural caverns at hydrothermal vents. These catalytic cells generated lipids, proteins and nucleotides which may have given rise to the first true cells.

The team focused on ideas pioneered by geochemist Michael J. Russell, on alkaline deep sea vents, which produce chemical gradients very similar to those used by almost all living organisms today -- a gradient of protons over a membrane. Early organisms likely exploited these gradients through a process called chemiosmosis, in which the proton gradient is used to drive synthesis of the universal energy currency, ATP, or simpler equivalents. Later on cells evolved to generate their own proton gradient by way of electron transfer from a donor to an acceptor. The team argue that the first donor was hydrogen and the first acceptor was CO2.

"Modern living cells have inherited the same size of proton gradient, and, crucially, the same orientation -- positive outside and negative inside -- as the inorganic vesicles from which they arose" said co-author John Allen, a biochemist at Queen Mary, University of London.

New Research Rejects 80-Year Theory of 'Primordial Soup' as the Origin of Life
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mike_c Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-03-10 08:13 PM
Response to Original message
1. somehow the graphic possibilities don't seem as interesting as....
Edited on Wed Feb-03-10 08:14 PM by mike_c


Sorry about the image size, but at least it's readable!
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ChairmanAgnostic Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-03-10 08:55 PM
Response to Reply #1
4. May I order online?
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Snow Bird Donating Member (95 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-03-10 08:44 PM
Response to Original message
2. The more you know, the less you understand. Tao Le Ching
Seems more true everyday.
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Vinnie From Indy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-03-10 08:53 PM
Response to Original message
3. I would venture that life on Earth had many origins
It may be that in the right environment that life is the rule and not the exception.
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ChairmanAgnostic Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-03-10 08:56 PM
Response to Reply #3
5. 7000 years ago, just one. trust me. I have this book. so it has to be true.
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agent46 Donating Member (424 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-04-10 01:08 AM
Response to Reply #3
10. I think that life
Edited on Thu Feb-04-10 01:08 AM by agent46
"I think that life is a general emergent property of matter...under at least certain circumstances, and maybe under far more circumstances than we can presently model. I wonder whether life might be an inevitable consequence of information storage and propagation-- that certain types of information propagation lead to self-organized matter and the mechanisms we recognize as characteristics of life."

I pulled this quote from (somewhere). I don't remember who wrote it, but it seemed pertinent.
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Occulus Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-04-10 02:26 PM
Response to Reply #10
12. Google says it was our very own mike_c
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skepticscott Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-03-10 08:58 PM
Response to Original message
6. Well, it's overstating things a bit
to say that this research "overturned" the soup theory. It might be more accurate to say that they have offered an alternative theory (the plausibility of which will no doubt be a subject of much discussion), but they have not shown that the prevailing one must be wrong. Naturally, they favor their own theory, but whether they can convince others of its viability remains to be seen.
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sharesunited Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-03-10 09:30 PM
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7. This still looks like a soup-based theory. With geothermal as the spark.
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-04-10 09:07 AM
Response to Reply #7
11. That's how I read it too.
Poor reporting. Plus the headline makes it sound as if the whole naturalistic explanation for the origin of life has been proven false, when that is not at all the case.
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arendt Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-04-10 10:43 PM
Response to Reply #11
14. The theory has been developed over a 20 year period...
if this is your first exposure, I would agree that the article cited is horrible reporting. (see my cites in my other post)

This theory has a long pedigree. First there was RNA world (wikipedia is your friend). Then there was Iron-Sulfur world (again, Wikipedia). This theory is an outgrowth/elaboration/reworking of Fe-S world that takes into account all the recent genetic evidence for who evolved from whom.

This theory is a hell of a lot more sophisticated than "soup". It talks about which reactions, in a highly exothermic thermal vent environment, would be energetically favorable. Then it shows there is a simple, three step pathway for CO2 fixation that requires no Krebs cycle and is performed today by two enzymes that are based on - wait for it - Iron Sulfur clusters.

It is a really interesting, detailed, and sophisticated theory. It is very specific. When pathway steps are proposed, people go off into labs and perform experiments in the kind of environment that is proposed (~50 C, alkaline water, bubble H2S through Fe-S minerals. If the predicted product does not occur, the prediction is abandoned.

Anyway, it is fascinating.
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-05-10 10:13 AM
Response to Reply #14
15. It is indeed fascinating.
And I've heard of it before, but not at that level of detail. Certainly sounds reasonable - especially when you consider the absolutely chaotic surface conditions, but the undoubtedly relatively stable ones deep in the ocean. Much more favorable laboratory for chemical combinations to arise.
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Chemisse Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Feb-06-10 08:16 PM
Response to Reply #14
16. Thanks for elaborating
It certainly sounds like an interesting theory.

I will miss my primordial soup though. :(
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ashling Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-03-10 10:32 PM
Response to Original message
8. What Kind Of Soup Would Jesus Eat?
:shrug:
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tinrobot Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-04-10 12:46 AM
Response to Original message
9. Sounds more like they discovered a bowl for the soup.
The chemicals of life were around, these "caverns" just provided structure and a place for them to collect.

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arendt Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Feb-04-10 10:36 PM
Response to Original message
13. Love this topic. Here is a link to his most recent paper; and other links
Hydrothermal vents and the origin of life
William Martin*, John Baross, Deborah Kelley and Michael J. Russell
Nature Reviews, Microbiology, November, 2008

http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&lr=&cluster=628... (click on the first/top version on offer.)

These other links are only to abstracts - you need a subscription or need to work thru Google Scholar (as above) or Science Direct, etc.

http://www.itqb.unl.pt/events/seminars/itqb-phd-program...

http://econgeol.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/content/abstrac...

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20427306.200-like...

http://science.jpl.nasa.gov/people/Russell /

http://www.nature.com/nrmicro/journal/v6/n11/full/nrmic...
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On the Road Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Feb-10-10 11:16 AM
Response to Original message
17. I Could Never See How the Primordial Soup Theory Would Work
Too easy to for the organic molecules to disperse in a large body of water. This theory eliminates that objection. It also suggests how the cell membrane could form, which is even more difficult to imagine in a primordial soup.
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