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Avalanche of reactions at the origin of life
Date:1/19/2012

al reactions bringing forth wholly new biomolecules. "This coupling between the catalyst and an organic reaction product is the first step", explains Wchtershuser. "Life arises, if subsequently a whole cascade of further couplings takes place, and this primordial life leads eventually to the formation of genetic material and of the first cells".

The scientists simulated in their experiments the conditions of volcanic-hydrothermal flow channels and established an aqueous-organometallic system that produces a whole suite of different biomolecules, among them the amino acids glycin and alanin. Here the carbon source was provided by a cyano compound and the reducing agent by carbon monoxide. Nickel compounds turned out to be the most effective catalysts in these experiments. The scientists then added the products glycin and alanin to another system, that generated again two new biomolecules. The result: The two amino acids increased the productivity oft he second system by a factor of five.

In future experiments the scientists intend to recreate more precisely the conditions of volcanic-hydrothermal systems, wherein life could have arisen billions of years ago. "For this purpose we simulate first certain stages in the development of a volcanic-hydrothermal flow system in order to determine essential parameters", explains Wchtershuser. "Only thereafter we may engage in a rational construction of a flow reactor".

The results of the scientists around Wchtershuser and Eisenreich show that an origin and evolution of life in hot water of volcanic flow ducts is feasible. The results reveal advantages of the theory compared to other approaches. Within the flow ducts temperature, pressure and pH change along the flow path, and thereby a graded spectrum of conditions is offered that is appropriate for all stages of early evolution up to the formation of genetic material (RNA/DNA).

The most important property of the system is its autonomy: As
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Contact: Dr. Andreas Battenberg
battenberg@zv.tum.de
49-892-891-0510
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Source:Eurekalert

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