Tuesday, February 21, 2006

EVOLUTION: Another domino falls

... even though it's not a big one.
Life is likely to have emerged in warm puddles of fresh water and not the piping-hot volcanic springs that have often been proposed as its source, research has suggested.

An experiment to recreate the conditions in which life began has revealed that the hot, acidic, clay-filled waters that had been proposed as prime candidates are probably incapable of mixing organic matter in the right way.

The idea that the origin of life might be traced to ponds warmed by volcanic heat, or around underwater hydrothermal vents, was first put forward by Charles Darwin in a letter in 1871, and the theory became accepted as one of the most likely explanations.

It suggested that a combination of organic compounds such as amino acids, acidic waters rich in clay, and heat, could have led to the formation of the complex molecules that kick-started life.

A team led by David Deamer, of the University of California, at Santa Cruz, has put this hypothesis to the test by investigating volcanic springs of this sort in Kamchatka, in Russia, and Mount Lassen, in California. He found that contrary to expectations, these springs were poor environments for the formation of these molecules.

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