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Review
. 2018 Sep 20;8(4):39.
doi: 10.3390/life8040039.

Geochemistry and the Origin of Life: From Extraterrestrial Processes, Chemical Evolution on Earth, Fossilized Life's Records, to Natures of the Extant Life

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Free PMC article
Review

Geochemistry and the Origin of Life: From Extraterrestrial Processes, Chemical Evolution on Earth, Fossilized Life's Records, to Natures of the Extant Life

Satoru Nakashima et al. Life (Basel). .
Free PMC article

Abstract

In 2001, the first author (S.N.) led the publication of a book entitled "Geochemistry and the origin of life" in collaboration with Dr. Andre Brack aiming to figure out geo- and astro-chemical processes essential for the emergence of life. Since then, a great number of research progress has been achieved in the relevant topics from our group and others, ranging from the extraterrestrial inputs of life's building blocks, the chemical evolution on Earth with the aid of mineral catalysts, to the fossilized records of ancient microorganisms. Here, in addition to summarizing these findings for the origin and early evolution of life, we propose a new hypothesis for the generation and co-evolution of photosynthesis with the redox and photochemical conditions on the Earth's surface. Besides these bottom-up approaches, we introduce an experimental study on the role of water molecules in the life's function, focusing on the transition from live, dormant, and dead states through dehydration/hydration. Further spectroscopic studies on the hydrogen bonding behaviors of water molecules in living cells will provide important clues to solve the complex nature of life.

Keywords: biopolymers; building blocks; extraterrestrial inputs; hydrogen bonding (9: 3-10); metabolism; mineral surfaces; photosynthesis; polymerization; water.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Structures, components, and abiotic synthetic pathways of bio-macromolecules operating in accordance with the three fundamental functions of life (compartmentalization, replication, and metabolism), modified from Kitadai and Maruyama [6].
Figure 2
Figure 2
Schematic processes of evolution of organic molecules from interstellar icy dust particles, their accumulation to planetesimals, and aqueous alteration/thermal metamorphism inside the planetesimals leading to the formation of life’s building blocks such as amino acids. They could have been delivered in meteorites and micrometeorites to Earth by collisions with other planetesimals.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Schematic illustration of thermodynamic and kinetic difficulty for polymerization of biopolymers. Hydration of minerals/salts would enable these polymerization processes (modified from Nakashima and Shiota [79]).
Figure 4
Figure 4
Schematic surface activation mechanisms of glycine polymerization on oxide minerals, modified from Kitadai et al. [81] with copyright permission from the journal.
Figure 5
Figure 5
(a) Present day photosynthetic pathways in the lipid membrane and (b) redox potentials of the photosynthetic systems I (PSI and II (PSII), modified from Blankenship [95] and Martin et al. [96].
Figure 6
Figure 6
(a) Present day light flux spectra from the Sun, modified from Blankenship [95], Smith et al. [97], and Seinfeld and Pandis [98]. (b) Absorption spectra of photosynthetic pigments and proteins, modified from Blankenship [95] and Wang et al. [99]. Copyright permission was obtained from the journal, the book, and the author.
Figure 7
Figure 7
Infrared (IR) micro-spectroscopic analyses of microfossils. (a) Optical microscope image of a filamentous microfossil in Bitter Springs chert and IR map image for 2925 cm−1 peak height due to aliphatic CH2 modified from Igisu et al. [120]. (b) Schematic images for determining the CH3/CH2 peak height ratio (R3/2). (c) CH3/CH2 peak height ratio (R3/2) of extant prokaryotes (cyanobacteria and E coli), and microfossils from Bitter Springs Group and Gunflint Formation modified from Igisu et al. [121] with copyright permission from the journal. Values for the whole cell, water-soluble (proteins), water-insoluble (membrane), and lipid extracts are also shown for cyanobacteria and E. coli.
Figure 8
Figure 8
In situ IR micro-spectroscopy system with controls of relative humidity (RH) and temperature (T) for studying changes of yeast cells during dehydration/rehydration and/or heating/cooling.
Figure 9
Figure 9
(a) IR spectral changes with time of the yeast cells heated at 60 °C for 0 and 3000 s. (b) Changes with time for the first 3000 s in the IR band area at 3005–3630 cm−1 (OH + NH) of the yeast cells heated at 60 °C. A fitting exponential curve is also shown.

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References

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