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Assembling LifeHow Can Life Begin on Earth and Other Habitable Planets?$
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David W. Deamer

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190646387

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190646387.001.0001

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Bioenergetics and Primitive Metabolic Pathways

Bioenergetics and Primitive Metabolic Pathways

Chapter:
7 Bioenergetics and Primitive Metabolic Pathways
Source:
Assembling Life
Author(s):

David W. Deamer

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190646387.003.0012

It seems inescapable that at some point primitive cells incorporated chemical reactions related to what we now call metabolism. In all life today, metabolic reactions are driven by sources of chemical or photochemical energy, and each step is catalyzed by enzymes and regulated by feedback systems. There have been multiple proposals for the kinds of reactions that could have been incorporated into early life, but so far there is little consensus about a plausible way for metabolism to begin. This chapter will briefly review the main ideas that are familiar to chemists as solution chemistry but then ask a new question from the epigraph: how can reactions in bulk aqueous solutions be captured in membranous compartments? This question is still virtually unexplored, but I can offer some ideas in the hope of guiding potentially fruitful approaches. Because metabolism is such a complex process, it is helpful to use bullet points to help clarify the discussion. The first is a list of questions that guide the discussion, the second is list of facts to keep in mind, and the third is a list of assumptions that introduce the argument. Questions to be addressed: What are the primary metabolic reactions used by life today? What reactions can occur in prebiotic conditions that are related to metabolism? How can potential nutrient solutes cross membranes in order to support metabolism? How could metabolic systems become incorporated into primitive cellular life? Metabolism can be defined as the activity of catalyzed networks of intracellular chemical reactions that alter nutrient compounds available in the environment into a variety of compounds that are used by living systems. Most of the reactions are energetically downhill, so there is an intimate association between the energy sources available to life and the kinds of reactions that can occur. Here is a summary of energy sources used by life today: Light is by far the most abundant energy source, totaling 1360 watts per square meter as infrared and visible wavelengths. Chemical energy in the form of reduced carbon compounds is made available by photosynthesis.

Keywords:   ATP synthase, Chemiosmotic energy, NADPH, Oxidation–reduction, carbohydrates, electron donors, glycolysis, homochirality, nicotinamide adenine diphosphate, quinones

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