Building blocks of life are created in simulated deep-sea volcanoes
Claudia Huber and Günther Wächtershäuser from the Technical University of Munich simulated the chemical-physical conditions of submarine volcanoes and found that the molecules fundamental to life on earth could have emerged there. The experiment supports the theory according to which important biochemical building blocks such as amino acids formed chemoautotrophically in suitable niches - i.e. under the given environmental conditions of the early Earth using only the building materials available at the time.
The researchers combined certain metal ions such as nickel and nickel-iron metals, which also occur in volcanic vents on the sea floor, with carbon dioxide, cyanide and ammonium compounds at high pressure and temperatures below 100 degrees Celsius. As it turned out, these metals acted as catalysts and promote, among other things, the addition of water to the starting molecules and the formation of simple organic molecules such as alpha-amino and alpha-hydroxy acids - the basic molecules of the metabolism of all living organisms.
The metal deposits in the experiment were decisive in the researchers' experiment: if they were present, they bound all the cyanide and also partially transferred it to the reaction partners as a catalyst; in the absence of the metal, the CN molecules remained dissolved in the water, did not react and did not form more complex molecules. According to the chemists, it was only the metal additives that made the clear difference to the "primordial soup experiments" carried out earlier. Volcanoes and hydrothermal vents in the deep sea with their repertoire of metal particles from the earth's crust, volcanic gases and minerals offer suitable bases for the formation of the building blocks of life.