A new study has revealed that deep-sea hot ocean vents may have spontaneously generated the organic molecules that are necessary for life on Earth. The study, published in the latest issue of the journal Chemical Communications, was conducted by a team of researchers at the University College London. Their findings show that the mineral particles found in hot ocean vents have very similar chemical properties to materials in enzymes in organic organisms. The researchers found that hot ocean vents are able to produce carbon-based molecules from carbon dioxide that is dissolved in the water. Therefore, they explained that the fundamental materials and chemical compounds of organisms were formed in nature before life spawned on the Earth.
The bottoms of the oceans have a surplus of energy, due to water turbulence and heat from the Earth’s mantle. As it is suggested from the study’s findings, carbon dioxide in dissolved water could have provided the required carbon-based compounds to build organisms. Though, Nora de Leeuw, lead author of the study and professor at the University College London department of chemistry, stated there is still much speculation and debate that hot ocean vents could have created life on Earth.
Co-author of the study, Nathan Hollingsworth, said the research team’s data showed that the crystal structures found in the hot ocean vents may also have a catalyst role, stimulating chemical reactions. Hollingsworth said, “They behave much like enzymes do in living organisms,” insofar as breaking down the bonds in atoms to make way for the creation of different molecules. This process allows them to combine with water to create pyruvic acid, acetic acid, formic acid, and methanol. He said these types of compounds allow the building of complex organic chemistry to begin.
Scientists have been attempting to find more information about deep-sea ocean vents for years. In 1977, a team of scientists found the first hot ocean vents while exploring underwater ocean ridges off the coast of the Galapagos Islands. Nearly all of the organisms found near the vents were unknown to biologists.
The research team stated there must not only be theoretical applications that are the sole significance of the study, such as just documenting new organisms. The findings could possibly lead to the way people could manufacture carbon-based compounds, rather than use extreme heat and pressure from nature. Moreover, it could replace crude oil as an environmentally friendly material to produce fuel and other resources from man-made carbon dioxide.
The new study reveals that even without the presence of living organisms, basic organic molecules can be created around hot ocean vents, possibly giving way for life. Hot ocean vents could possibly be where cyanobacteria, the first theorized bacterium on Earth, came from. Scientists state that the ocean floor is less explored than the Moon. Therefore, this could be the first of many studies that could help researchers formulate a greater understand of how live was first created, as well as on other planets.
By Alex Lemieux
Photo by Pacific Ring of Fire 2004 Expedition; NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration; Dr. Bob Embley, NOAA PMEL, Chief Scientist. – Creativecommons Flickr License