Greenalite Nanoparticles in Alkaline Vent Plumes as Templates for the Origin of Life

B. Rasmussen, J. R. Muhling, W. W. Fischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Mineral templates are thought to have played keys roles in the emergence of life. Drawing on recent findings from 3.45-2.45 billion-year-old iron-rich hydrothermal sedimentary rocks, we hypothesize that greenalite (Fe3Si2O5(OH)4) was a readily available mineral in hydrothermal environments, where it may have acted as a template and catalyst in polymerization, vesicle formation and encapsulation, and protocell replication. We argue that venting of dissolved Fe2+ and SiO2(aq) into the anoxic Hadean ocean favored the precipitation of nanometer-sized particles of greenalite in hydrothermal plumes, producing a continuous flow of free-floating clay templates that traversed the ocean. The mixing of acidic, metal-bearing hydrothermal plumes from volcanic ridge systems with more alkaline, organic-bearing plumes generated by serpentinization of ultramafic rocks brought together essential building blocks for life in solutions conducive to greenalite precipitation. We suggest that the extreme disorder in the greenalite crystal lattice, producing structural modulations resembling parallel corrugations (∼22 Å wide) on particle edges, promoted the assembly and alignment of linear RNA-type molecules (∼20 Å diameter). In alkaline solutions, greenalite nanoparticles could have accelerated the growth of membrane vesicles, while their encapsulation allowed RNA-type molecules to continue to form on the mineral templates, potentially enhancing the growth and division of primitive cell membranes. Once self-replicating RNA evolved, the mineral template became redundant, and protocells were free to replicate and roam the ocean realm.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-259
Number of pages14
JournalAstrobiology
Volume21
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

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