Evidence of Prebiotic Chemistry from Primitive Earth Discovered
19. Juni 2017
Researchers from Heidelberg and Essen study quartz deposits from Western Australia
Photo: Thomas Kirnbauer
Researchers from the University of Duisburg-Essen and Heidelberg University have gained new insights into organochemical processes in the Earth's crust. Several billion years old samples of quartz deposits from Western Australia collected during two field campaigns were analysed. In the quartz minerals the researchers discovered evidence of organic chemistry starting from inorganic compounds, i.e. without any contact with biota. The analysis of the isotopic composition revealed the molecules as abiotic in origin. They will now be used in experiments on the origin of life in which conditions in the Earth's upper crust will be simulated in the laboratory.
“Our experiments were based on the premise that organic chemistry must have existed prior to the formation of the first biological cells approximately four billion years ago. Organic molecules therefore created the foundation for biological processes that have been changing the planet for more than 3.5 billion years,” explains Prof. Dr Frank Keppler from the Institute of Earth Sciences at Heidelberg University. According to the researcher, the diversity of the newly discovered organic compounds and their isotopic composition yield valuable evidence about processes in the Earth's crust. “Based on a model by our colleagues in Essen, the foundations for the origin of life were laid in the Earth's crust,” explains Prof. Keppler.
The two field campaigns took place in 2012 and 2013 under the direction of Prof. Dr Ulrich Schreiber of the University of Duisburg-Essen. Prof. Dr Keppler and the environmental geochemist Prof. Dr Heinz Friedrich Schöler from Heidelberg University analysed the quartz samples. The results of the research were published in “PLoS ONE”.