Husn's paper in the news; did life begin underwater?

04-05-2015

As reported in the Daily Mail, "Did life begin in underwater volcanoes? Hot sea vents spontaneously produce building blocks needed for organisms to develop". Husn's paper published in Chemical Communications, DOI: 10.1039/C5CC02078F, is attracting media attention. The study shows how the iron sulphide mineral greigite catalyses the conversion of carbon dioxide in aqueous solution into more complex soluble organic molecules, precursors of proteins or polymers. This proves how some of the key building blocks for organic chemistry may form in nature and gives a plausible logical chemical pathway for the emergence of the first life forms. There are also potential practical applications, as it shows how products such as plastics and fuels could be synthesised from CO2 rather than oil.

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Or in other words, the work shows how surfaces and crystal structures inside hydrothermal vents on the sea bed act as catalysts, encouraging chemical changes in the material that settles on them. The iron sulphide crystals in these vents behave much like enzymes do in living organisms, breaking down the bonds between carbon and oxygen atoms. This lets them combine with water to produce formic acid, acetic acid, methanol and pyruvic acid. Once you have simple carbon-based chemicals such as these, it opens the door to more complex carbon-based chemistry.

This has been picked up by phys.org, Nature World News, and the UK tabloid the Daily Mail

 

  1. Alberto Roldan , Nathan Hollingsworth , Anna Roffrey , Husn ubayda Islam , Josephine Goodall , C Richard A Catlow , Jawwad A Darr , Wim Bras , Gopinathan Sankar , Katherine B Holt , G Hogarth and Nora Henriette de Leeuw; “Bio-Inspired CO2 Conversion by Iron Sulfide Catalysts under Sustainable Conditions”; Chem. Commun., (2015), 51, 7501; DOI: 10.1039/C5CC02078F