In “Russian hot springs point to rocky origins for life” (New Scientist, 13 February 2012), Colin Barras reports on the recent new theory that insists that life began on land, in ponds, not the ocean. Sure enough, the story begins with ritual Darwin worship:
New findings challenge the widespread view that it all kicked off in the oceans. Life may have begun on land instead – just as Darwin thought
In fairness, Darwin tossed that off as an “if only” speculation in a letter, and did zero research on the subject. It’s not his fault if his followers are prone to inappropriate worshipfulness about everything he did and said.
Armen Mulkidjanian and colleagues explain to us why life couldn’t have begun around hydrothermal vents in the ocean:
Armen Mulkidjanian at the University of Osnabruck in Germany says there is a fundamental problem with the ocean floor hypothesis: salt. The cytoplasm found inside all cells contains much more potassium than sodium. Mulkidjanian thinks that chemistry reflects the chemistry of the water life first appeared in, yet salty seawater is sodium-rich and potassium-poor.
“The ancient sea contained the wrong balance of sodium and potassium for the origin of cells,” says Mulkidjanian.
His team has found thermal springs in Kamchatka, Siberia, where they say the balance is just right.
Science writer Barras deserves credit for admitting that origin of life is “a highly polarised field of research,” noting that
Nick Lane at University College London disputes the claims that the first cells couldn’t cope with life in sodium-rich water. Early cells could have actively pumped out sodium ions, he says. “This is exactly what many methanogens and acetogens do,” he points out, referring to microbes that are thought to be among the earliest cellular life forms. This, says Lane, is good evidence that the earliest living cells did indeed actively pump out sodium ions.
Carrine Blank, a geologist at the University of Montana in Missoula says life was unlikely to survive on land 3.8 billion years ago, at a time when meteorites were pummelling Earth.
Others dismissed the idea as “absurd” and would not comment on the record.
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