Couldn’t get much worse:
At Bumpass Hell in California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park, the ground is literally boiling, and the aroma of rotten eggs fills the air. Gas bubbles rise through puddles of mud, producing goopy popping sounds. Jets of scorching-hot steam blast from vents in the earth. The fearsome site was named for the cowboy Kendall Bumpass, who in 1865 got too close and stepped through the thin crust. Boiling, acidic water burned his leg so badly that it had to be amputated.
Some scientists contend that life on our planet arose in such seemingly inhospitable conditions. Long before creatures roamed the Earth, hot springs like Bumpass Hell may have promoted chemical reactions that linked together simple molecules in a first step toward complexity.Jack J. Lee, “Life on Earth may have begun in hostile hot springs” at ScienceNews
At one time, origin-of-life researchers were hoping it would all just swish into place in a favorable environment. If that didn’t work out, it must be a pretty tough field.
The story highlights the work of David Deamer, a proponent of hot springs as the site of the origin of life and an astrobiologist, Bruce Damer, both at UC Santa Cruz. Their paper, David Deamer, Bruce Damer, and Vladimir Kompanichenko.Astrobiology.Dec 2019.1523-537.http://doi.org/10.1089/ast.2018.1979, is paywalled but here’s the abstract:
Two processes required for life’s origin are condensation reactions that produce essential biopolymers by a nonenzymatic reaction, and self-assembly of membranous compartments that encapsulate the polymers into populations of protocells. Because life today thrives not just in the temperate ocean and lakes but also in extreme conditions of temperature, salinity, and pH, there is a general assumption that any form of liquid water would be sufficient to support the origin of life as long as there are sources of chemical energy and simple organic compounds. We argue here that the first forms of life would be physically and chemically fragile and would be strongly affected by ionic solutes and pH. A hypothesis emerges from this statement that hot springs associated with volcanic land masses have an ionic composition more conducive to self-assembly and polymerization than seawater. Here we have compared the ionic solutes of seawater with those of terrestrial hot springs. We then describe preliminary experimental results that show how the hypothesis can be tested in a prebiotic analog environment.
See also: Hot News: Hydrothermal vents top primordial soup