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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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Hydrothermal Conditions are Conducive for the Origin of Life

Hydrothermal Conditions are Conducive for the Origin of Life

(p.18) 3 Hydrothermal Conditions are Conducive for the Origin of Life
Assembling Life

David W. Deamer

Oxford University Press

Alexander Ivanovich Oparin was first to consider the origin of life in strictly scientific terms. Oparin published The Origin of Life in 1924, in his native Russian language, and was active in the field for the next 50 years. During my initial field work in the volcanic regions of Kamchatka, organized with Vladimir Kompanichenko, we visited the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology in Petropavlovsk, and I happened to see the above quote painted on a wall near the entrance. Oparin’s proposal about how life can begin was intuitive because he had no experimental evidence as a foundation, but as our party rode in helicopters up and down the peninsula from one volcanic site to the next, I began to share his intuition. The focus of this chapter concerns the properties of water in contact with mineral surfaces heated by volcanism, inspired by what we saw in Kamchatka. Four billion years ago, as the global temperature decreased following the condensation of the ocean, there came a point at which the components required for the origin of life could assemble into systems of encapsulated polymers. Two alternative hydrothermal conditions have been proposed as sites where this could have occurred: salty seawater at submarine hydrothermal vents and freshwater circulating in hydrothermal fields associated with volcanic land masses. To weigh the alternatives, this chapter considers the chemical and physical properties of hydrothermal vents and hydrothermal fields and how each could contribute to the origin of cellular life. Questions to be addressed: What are the chemical and physical properties of hydrothermal vents? How do the properties of hydrothermal fields differ from those of vents? How are these properties related to the way that organic solutes can undergo physical and chemical interactions related to the origin of life? Suppose that an organic chemist decides to synthesize a new compound that involves making an ester bond. The chemist is provided with a solution of the two reactants such as acetic acid and ethanol, and then is given a choice: should the reaction be run in an ice bath or instead heated to boiling and refluxed?

Keywords:   Alkaline vents, Hawaiian Islands, Kamchatka, Oparin A.I, Yellowstone National Park, activation energy, black smokers, condensation reactions, disequilibrium, hydrothermal fields

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