Geomimetic Biochemistry: How the Origin of Biochemistry May Be Linked to the Earth's Early Abiotic Organic Landscape

Presenter: George Cody, Carnegie Institution for Science
When: April 21, 2009 2:30PM PDT

The emergence of life was a natural consequence of organic chemistry that occurred spontaneously on the early Earth. One of the challenges is to identify a specific environment that provided the capacity to promote chemistry that is identifiably useful to biochemistry. We have been performing experimental research on organic chemistry that may occur in proximity to deep sea hydrothermal environments. Recognizing that it is impossible to run experiments long enough or large enough to capture the full range of chemosynthetic pathways, we adopt the approach of mapping out plausible reaction networks. We have identified a robust chemical network that affords a pathway from inorganic sources of C, N, and S up through the familiar metabolic intermediates and beyond towards amino acids and nucleobases. Many of these reactions are catalyzed well by common transition metal sulfides. We have also identified a plausible source of naturally activated phosphate. How all of this chemistry may have intersected in a single localized environment and how this confluence may have acted as a focal point for the origin of life will be discussed.

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