Navigation Links
Ancient minerals: Which gave rise to life?

Washington, D.C. Life originated as a result of natural processes that exploited early Earth's raw materials. Scientific models of life's origins almost always look to minerals for such essential tasks as the synthesis of life's molecular building blocks or the supply of metabolic energy. But this assumes that the mineral species found on Earth today are much the same as they were during Earth's first 550 million yearsthe Hadean Eonwhen life emerged. A new analysis of Hadean mineralogy challenges that assumption. It is published in American Journal of Science.

Carnegie's Robert Hazen compiled a list of every plausible mineral species on the Hadean Earth and concludes that no more than 420 different mineralsabout 8 percent of the nearly 5,000 species found on Earth todaywould have been present at or near Earth's surface.

"This is a consequence of the limited ways that minerals might have formed prior to 4 billion years ago," Hazen explained. "Most of the 420 minerals of the Hadean Eon formed from magmamolten rock that slowly crystallized at or near Earth's surfaceas well as the alteration of those minerals when exposed to hot water."

By contrast, thousands of mineral species known today are the direct result of growth by living organisms, such as shells and bones, as well as life's chemical byproducts, such as oxygen from photosynthesis. In addition, hundreds of other minerals that incorporate relatively rare elements such as lithium, beryllium, and molybdenum appear to have taken a billion years or more to first appear because it is difficult to concentrate these elements sufficiently to form new minerals. So those slow-forming minerals are also excluded from the time of life's origins.

"Fortunately for most origin-of-life models, the most commonly invoked minerals were present on early Earth," Hazen said.

For example, clay mineralssometimes theorized by chemists to trigger interesting reactionswere certainly available. Sulfide minerals, including reactive iron and nickel varieties, were also widely available to catalyze organic reactions. However, borate and molybdate minerals, which are relatively rare even today, are unlikely to have occurred on the Hadean Earth and call into question origin models that rely on those mineral groups.

Several questions remain unanswered and offer opportunities for further study of the paleomineralogy of the Hadean Eon. For example, the Hadean Eon differs from today in the frequent large impacts of asteroids and cometsthousands of collisions by objects with diameters from a mile up to 100 miles. Such impacts would have caused massive disruption of Earth's crust, with extensive fracture zones that were filled with hot circulating water. Such hydrothermal areas could have created complex zones with many exotic minerals.

This study also raises the question of how other planets and moons evolved mineralogically. Hazen suggests that Mars today may have progressed only as far as Earth's Hadean Eon. As such, Mars may be limited to a similar suite of no more than about 400 different mineral species. Thanks to the Curiosity rover, we may soon know if that's the case.


Contact: Robert Hazen
Carnegie Institution

Related biology news :

1. Unusual greenhouse gases may have raised ancient Martian temperature
2. Acid raid, ozone depletion contributed to ancient extinction
3. Ancient, modern DNA tell story of first humans in the Americas
4. Visualizing the past: Nondestructive imaging of ancient fossils
5. A new scorpion species from ancient Lycia
6. Reading ancient climate from plankton shells
7. The mysterious scarab beetles: 2 new species of the endangered ancient genus Gyronotus
8. Lampreys provide hints to ancient immune cells
9. Ancient whale coprolites, fault slickensides, shergottites, Ediacara, and Cascadia
10. Extinct ancient ape did not walk like a human, study shows
11. Study reveals ancient jigsaw puzzle of past supercontinent
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Ancient minerals: Which gave rise to life?
(Date:11/26/2015)... DUBLIN , Nov. 26, 2015 Research ... of the "Capacitive Fingerprint Sensors - Technology and ... --> --> ... market, especially in smartphones. The fingerprint sensor vendor Idex ... fingerprint sensor units in mobile devices and of the ...
(Date:11/20/2015)... , November 20, 2015 ... company focused on the growing mobile commerce market and ... Gino Pereira , was recently interviewed on ... will air on this weekend on Bloomberg Europe ... America . --> NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" or ...
(Date:11/19/2015)... , Nov. 19, 2015  Based on its ... & Sullivan recognizes BIO-key with the 2015 Global Frost ... year, Frost & Sullivan presents this award to the ... catering to the needs of the market it serves. ... line meets and expands on customer base demands, the ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... November 30, 2015 , ... ... tighter software integration with MarkLogic, the Enterprise NoSQL database platform provider, creating ... drive change. , Smartlogic’s Content Intelligence capabilities provide a robust set of ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... and PETACH TIKVAH, Israel , Nov. 30, ... BCLI ), a leading developer of adult stem cell technologies ... Cell Therapeutics Ltd., has been awarded an additional grant of ... the Chief Scientist (OCS). This grant, the second this year, ... activities to approximately $1.8 million (approximately NIS7 million).  ...
(Date:11/28/2015)... Seoul, South Korea (PRWEB) , ... November 28, 2015 , ... ... new class of eco-friendly avian, porcine and rodent control solutions , ... such as peppermint and cinnamon oil, works across all sensory modalities including visual, smell, ...
(Date:11/27/2015)... /PRNewswire/--  Mallinckrodt plc (NYSE: MNK ), a ... closed the sale of its global contrast media and ... in a transaction valued at approximately $270 million. The ... total of approximately 1,000 employees spread across the globe, ... area. This entire workforce and the manufacturing ...
Breaking Biology Technology: