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Origin of life: New model pictures early life as fuel cells

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File:Barnum & Bailey clowns and geese2.jpg Further to “Forget the origin of life problem, it turns out nothing is truly alive” and the option of just tuning out the solution-of-the-month and recognizing that there is something wrong with the way origin of life is being pursued. Let’s go back to the big ring.

From ScienceDaily:

“Before biological life, one could say the early Earth had ‘geological life’. It may seem unusual to consider geology, involving inanimate rocks and minerals, as being alive. But what is life?” said Dr Kee.

“Many people have failed to come up with a satisfactory answer to this question. So what we have done instead is to look at what life does, and all life forms use the same chemical processes that occur in a fuel cell to generate their energy.”

Fuel cells in cars generate electrical energy by reacting fuels and oxidants. This is an example of a ‘redox reaction’, as one molecule loses electrons (is oxidised) and one molecule gains electrons (is reduced).
Similarly, photosynthesis in plants involves generating electrical energy from the reduction of carbon dioxide into sugars and the oxidation of water into molecular oxygen. And respiration in cells in the human body is the oxidation of sugars into carbon dioxide and the reduction of oxygen into water, with electrical energy produced in the reaction.

Certain geological environments, such as hydrothermal vents can be considered as ‘environmental fuel cells’, since electrical energy can be generated from redox reactions between hydrothermal fuels and seawater oxidants, such as oxygen. Indeed, last year researchers in Japan demonstrated that electrical power can be harnessed from these vents in a deep-sea experiment in Okinawa.

In the new study, the researchers have demonstrated a proof of concept for their fuel cell model of the emergence of cell metabolism on Earth.

One critic compared the hydrothermal vent scenario to life starting in hot Coca-Cola.

Are the critics too harsh? After all, didn’t automotive fuel cells evolve, just like Coca-Cola, through random processes in the chemical environment?

Science-Fictions-square.gif Here’s a quick summary of the avenues that have been tried, at one handy go: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (origin of life)

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Hydrothermal vent are impressive, so long as we don’t confuse how life can use them with whether such a low-information environment can produce life:


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