Elements for the Origin of Life on Land: A Deep-Time Perspective from the Pilbara Craton of Western Australia

Astrobiology. 2021 Jan;21(1):39-59. doi: 10.1089/ast.2019.2107.


For decades, deep sea hydrothermal vents have been a preferred setting for the Origin of Life, but "The Water Problem" as relates to polymerization of organic molecules, together with a propensity to dilute critical prebiotic elements as well as a number of other crucial factors, suggests that a terrestrial hot spring field with the capacity for wet-dry cycling and element concentration may represent a more likely candidate. Here, we investigate a 3.5 billion-year-old, anoxic hot spring setting from the Pilbara Craton (Australia) and show that its hydrothermal veins and compositionally varied pools and springs concentrated all of the essential elements required for prebiotic chemistry (including B, Zn, Mn, and K, in addition to C, H, N, O, P, and S). Temporal variability (seasonal to decadal), together with the known propensity of hot springs for wet-dry cycling and information exchange, would lead to innovation pools with peaks of fitness for developing molecules. An inference from the chemical complexity of the Pilbara analogue is that life could perhaps get started quickly on planets with volcanoes, silicate rocks, an exposed land surface, and water, ingredients that should form the backbone in the search for life in the Universe.

Keywords: Analogue.; Archean; Hot springs; Origin of Life; Pilbara.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Hot Springs*
  • Origin of Life
  • Silicates
  • Water
  • Western Australia


  • Silicates
  • Water