Life Originated in the Earth’s Crust

Related Articles

This at least is what the geologist Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schreiber and the physico-chemist Prof. Dr. Christian Mayer of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany are convinced of.

It is the first model on the origin of life which includes a complete process leading from inorganic chemistry to a protocell where the problems of molecule formation, local concentration, driving force and membrane formation are being solved simultaneously” Prof. Mayer from the faculty of Chemistry says.

What is this all about? The detailed environments on the early Earth and the conditions, under which life could originate billions of years ago are largely unknown. In consequence, the possible processes which may have taken place can neither be proven nor excluded. Therefore, most of the models proposed so far are focused on singular elementary steps of prebiotic developments. In its long history, the corresponding discussion about the crucial location on early Earth shifted from the Earth’s surface to the deep sea, from volcanic outlets to shallow ponds. Lacking plausible alternatives, extraterrestrial regions like Mars or the interplanetary space have also been included.


Credit : Universität Duisburg-Essen
Credit : Universität Duisburg-Essen

On the other hand, the continental crust was, during a long time, neglected in the discussion. “This region, however, offers the ideal conditions for the origin of life“, Prof. Schreiber says.  His focus is on deep-reaching tectonic fault zones which are in contact with the Earth’s mantle. As for example in the region of the “Eifel” in Germany, they are channeling water, carbon dioxide and other gases which constantly rise to the surface. This fluid mixture contains all necessary ingredients for prebiotic organic chemistry.

One of the most intriguing aspects is the presence of supercritical carbon dioxide in depths below 800 meters. This supercritical fluid combines the properties of a liquid with those of a gas and presents an ideal solvent for organic chemical reactions. “This allows for many synthetic steps leading to complex biological molecules which otherwise, in a solvent like water, could not be accounted for”, Prof. Mayer explains, “Supercritical carbon dioxide acts like an organic solvent enabling reactions which would not occur in an aqueous environment. Moreover, it forms interfaces with water and hereby generates double-layer membranes which represent the most important single structural element of living cells”.

The fundamental steps of the proposed mechanisms have already been successfully reproduced in the laboratory. This includes the formation of vesicles as simple cell-like structures or the combination of amino acids to longer polymer chains forming the basis for proteins and enzymes. A fascinating detail is the fact that these processes may be proven today as they have left traces in minerals which have grown in the fault zones of the early Earth.

Prof. Oliver Schmitz, responsible for the field of trace analysis in the department of Chemistry in Essen, is convinced:  „Tiny fluid inclusions in crystals from Australian quartz dykes which have been collected by Prof. Schreiber contain a large collection of organic substances. They have been encapsulated from the fluid contents of the fault zone during the growth of the crystals. Today, they may help us to identify the chemistry which has taken place.“  With his profound experience in the analysis of natural compounds, Prof. Schmitz is a valuable asset in the research group at the University of Duisburg-Essen which deals with the fascinating question around the origin of life.

Universität Duisburg-Essen

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic


Roman Villa of Tiberius and the Cave of Imperial Pleasure

The Villa of Tiberius is a ruined Roman villa complex located in the present-day town of Sperlonga, in the province of Latina on the western coast of Italy.

Archaeologists Excavate 1,600-Year-Old Burial Containing Ornate Treasures

Archaeologists excavating a burial ground have discovered a grave containing ornate grave goods from the 5th century AD, a period of instability during the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

Archaeologists Discover Ancient Settlements Associated With “Polish Pyramids”

Archaeologists conducting a detailed study of the area near the Kujawy megalithic tombs, dubbed the “Polish Pyramids”, have identified the associated settlements of the tomb builders.

Rocky Planet Discovered in Virgo Constellation Could Change Search For Life in Universe

A newly discovered planet could be our best chance yet of studying rocky planet atmospheres outside the solar system, a new international study involving UNSW Sydney shows.

Sungbo’s Eredo – The “Queen of Sheba’s Embankment”

Sungbo’s Eredo is one of the largest man-made monuments in Africa, consisting of a giant system of ditches and embankments that surrounds the entire ljebu Kingdom in the rain forests of south-western Nigeria.

Woolly Mammoths May Have Shared the Landscape With First Humans in New England

Woolly mammoths may have walked the landscape at the same time as the earliest humans in what is now New England, according to a Dartmouth study published in Boreas.

Prehistoric killing machine exposed

Judging by its massive, bone-crushing teeth, gigantic skull and powerful jaw, there is no doubt that the Anteosaurus, a premammalian reptile that roamed the African continent 265 to 260 million years ago - during a period known as the middle Permian - was a ferocious carnivore.

Noushabad – The Hidden Underground City

Noushabed, also called Oeei or Ouyim is an ancient subterranean city, built beneath the small town of Nushabad in present-day Iran.

Popular stories

Noushabad – The Hidden Underground City

Noushabed, also called Oeei or Ouyim is an ancient subterranean city, built beneath the small town of Nushabad in present-day Iran.

Ani – The Abandoned Medieval City

Ani is a ruined medieval city, and the former capital of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom, located in the Eastern Anatolia region of the Kars province in present-day Turkey.

Interactive Map of Earth’s Asteroid and Meteor Impact Craters

Across the history of our planet, around 190 terrestrial impact craters have been identified that still survive the Earth’s geological processes, with the most recent event occurring in 1947 at the Sikhote-Alin Mountains of south-eastern Russia.

The Sunken Town of Pavlopetri

Pavlopetri, also called Paulopetri, is a submerged ancient town, located between the islet of Pavlopetri and the Pounta coast of Laconia, on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece.