Volcanic-hydrothermal flow channels offer a chemically unique environment, which at first glance appears hostile to life. It is defined by cracks in the crust of the earth, through which water flows, laden with volcanic gases are contacting a diversity of minerals. And yet it is precisely this extreme environment, where the two mechanisms could have emerged, which are at the root of all life: The multiplication of biomolecules (reproduction) and the emergence of new biomolecules on the basis of previously formed biomolecules (evolution).
At the outset of this concatenation of reactions that led eventually to the formation of cellular forms of life there are only a few amino acids, which are formed from volcanic gases by mineral catalysis. Akin to a domino stone that triggers a whole avalanche, these first biomolecules stimulate not only their own further synthesis but also the production of wholly new biomolecules. "In this manner life begins by necessity in accordance with pre-established laws of chemistry and in a pre-determined direction", declares Gnter Wchtershuser, honorary professor for evolutionary biochemistry at the University of Regensburg. He developed the mechanism of a self-generating metabolism theoretically, alas, an experimental demonstration has been lacking so far.
Now, scientists around Claudia Huber and Wolfgang Eisenreich, at the Chair of Biochemistry in the Department of Chemistry at the TUM in close cooperation with Wchtershuser, managed for the first time to demonstrate experimentally the possibility of such a self-stimulating mechanism. A catalyst consisting of compounds of the transition metals nickel, cobalt or iron has the lead role in these reactions. It provides not only for the formation of the first biomolecules, but it also initiates the concatenation of reactions. The reason: The biomolecules just newly formed from the volcanic gases engage the center of the transition metal catalyst to enable further chemic
|Contact: Dr. Andreas Battenberg|
Technische Universitaet Muenchen