• Open Access

Did life originate from a global chemical reactor?

Authors

  • E. E. Stüeken,

    Corresponding author
    1. Astrobiology Program, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
    • Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
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  • R. E. Anderson,

    1. Astrobiology Program, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
    2. School of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
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  • J. S. Bowman,

    1. Astrobiology Program, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
    2. School of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
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  • W. J. Brazelton,

    1. Astrobiology Program, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
    2. School of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
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  • J. Colangelo-Lillis,

    1. Astrobiology Program, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
    2. School of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
    3. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, McGill University, QC, Canada
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  • A. D. Goldman,

    1. Astrobiology Program, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
    2. Department of Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
    3. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA
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  • S. M. Som,

    1. Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
    2. Astrobiology Program, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
    3. Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, Seattle, WA, USA
    4. Exobiology Branch, NASA Ames Research Center, CA, USA
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  • J. A. Baross

    1. Astrobiology Program, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
    2. School of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
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Corresponding author: E. E. Stüeken. Tel.: +1 206 353 0790; e-mail: evast@u.washington.edu

Abstract

Many decades of experimental and theoretical research on the origin of life have yielded important discoveries regarding the chemical and physical conditions under which organic compounds can be synthesized and polymerized. However, such conditions often seem mutually exclusive, because they are rarely encountered in a single environmental setting. As such, no convincing models explain how living cells formed from abiotic constituents. Here, we propose a new approach that considers the origin of life within the global context of the Hadean Earth. We review previous ideas and synthesize them in four central hypotheses: (i) Multiple microenvironments contributed to the building blocks of life, and these niches were not necessarily inhabitable by the first organisms; (ii) Mineral catalysts were the backbone of prebiotic reaction networks that led to modern metabolism; (iii) Multiple local and global transport processes were essential for linking reactions occurring in separate locations; (iv) Global diversity and local selection of reactants and products provided mechanisms for the generation of most of the diverse building blocks necessary for life. We conclude that no single environmental setting can offer enough chemical and physical diversity for life to originate. Instead, any plausible model for the origin of life must acknowledge the geological complexity and diversity of the Hadean Earth. Future research may therefore benefit from identifying further linkages between organic precursors, minerals, and fluids in various environmental contexts.

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