Biochemical evolution II: Origin of life in tubular microstructures on weathered feldspar surfaces Journal Article uri icon

DCO ID 11121/7776-1667-6934-5787-CC

in language

  • eng

year of publication

  • 1998


  • Mineral surfaces were important during the emergence of life on Earth because the assembly of the necessary complex biomolecules by random collisions in dilute aqueous solutions is implausible. Most silicate mineral surfaces are hydrophilic and organophobic and unsuitable for catalytic reactions, but some silica-rich surfaces of partly dealuminated feldspars and zeolites are organophilic and potentially catalytic. Weathered alkali feldspar crystals from granitic rocks at Shap, north west England, contain abundant tubular etch pits, typically 0.4-0.6 mu m wide, forming an orthogonal honeycomb network in a surface zone 50 mu m thick, with 2-3 x 10(6) intersections per mm(2) of crystal surface. Surviving metamorphic rocks demonstrate that granites and acidic surface water were present on the Earth's surface by similar to 3.8 Ga. By analogy with Shap granite, honeycombed feldspar has considerable potential as a natural catalytic surface for the start of biochemical evolution. Biomolecules should have become available by catalysis of amino acids, etc. The honeycomb mould have provided access to various mineral inclusions in the feldspar, particularly apatite and oxides, which contain phosphorus and transition metals necessary for energetic life. The organized environment would have protected complex molecules from dispersion into dilute solutions, from hydrolysis, and from UV radiation. Sub-micrometer tubes in the honeycomb might have acted as rudimentary cell walls for proto-organisms, which ultimately evolved a lipid lid giving further shelter from the hostile outside environment. A lid would finally have become a complete cell wall permitting detachment and flotation in primordial "soup," Etch features on weathered alkali feldspar from Shap match the shape of overlying soil bacteria.


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