New research has sent shock waves through the scientific community by suggesting life on Earth may have started deep in the ocean around hydrothermal vents, overturning 90 years of scientific consensus.
If right, Madeline Weiss and her colleagues at the German Institute of Molecular Evolution may have overturned 90 years of scientific understanding that the origin of life likely occurred in a “primordial soup” after a series of chemical reactions. Weiss’ research suggests the last common ancestor of all life likely lived within a deep sea hydrothermal vent.
“The concept of a last universal common ancestor of all cells (LUCA, or the progenote) is central to the study of early evolution and life’s origin, yet information about how and where LUCA lived is lacking,” reads the abstract of Weiss’ study. “LUCA inhabited a geochemically active environment rich in H2, CO2 and iron. The data support the theory of an autotrophic origin of life involving the Wood–Ljungdahl pathway in a hydrothermal setting.”
Hydrothermal vents are the only known modern environment that could have created the complex organic molecules that collect energy in modern cells, according to Weiss. The earliest living cells harvested energy in a similar way to life currently living around hydrothermal vents, meaning life itself likely arose in a similar environment.
Many scientists have advanced the “primordial soup” hypothesis that life began when lightning or ultraviolet rays caused simple molecules to join together. It’s been supported by laboratory experiments that found trace amounts of molecular building blocks of life can be created under similar conditions.
Other research suggests that the primordial soup was not the right kind of environment to create the kind of complex adaptions which allowed the first living cell to harness energy.
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