Volcanic gas may have played a role in the origins of life.

Scientists recently took another step forward in determining how life got its start on Earth. Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have been experimenting with a component of volcanic gas to see if it played a role in amino acids forming the first peptides:

“There are lots of ways to make amino acids,” says Professor M. Reza Ghadiri, Ph.D., who is a member of The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at Scripps Research. “But the question is, how do you couple them together?”

Ghadiri and Luke Leman, who is a member of the Kellogg School of Science and Technology at Scripps Research, worked out one possible solution with Leslie Orgel of the Salk Institute. In the latest issue of the journal Science, Leman, Ghadiri, and Orgel suggest that the missing link is a chemical component of volcanic gas known as carbonyl sulfide.

Carbonyl sulfide is present in volcanic gasses and deep sea vent emissions today, and since these geological phenomena were prominent features on the early Earth, it is reasonable to assume that the gas was present.

In their report, the scientists demonstrate that the gas can bring about a vigorous chemical reaction that forms peptides under mild aqueous conditions. Within a few minutes of introducing the gas to a reaction vessel containing amino acids, they observed high yields of di-, tri-, and tetra-peptides. They carried out the reaction in the presence of air, without air, and with and without other ingredients like metal ions, and they found peptides formed readily under all these conditions.

“It’s really efficient, actually,” says Ghadiri. “This addresses a very important question that we did not have a real good answer for.”

The scientists are quick to caution that there is still much work to be done before the full answer to the riddle of how life originated is known, but they also insist that it is far from an insoluble problem. This advance opens up new avenues to explore and the team plans to experiment further with carbonyl sulfide to see if it may play a part in other chemical reactions that would be involved in prebiotic chemistry.

20 thoughts on “Volcanic gas may have played a role in the origins of life.

  1. It was suspected and that’s why they’ve been working on experiments to try and establish how, exactly, they could be involved. This provides a big piece to that puzzle.

  2. Right but they didn’t know specifically how, just speculation. I wss terrible at biology, but I am very curious to see if they can create life from basic components and reproduce what happened in nature.  That would really get the creationists in a Tizzy.

  3. Very interesting.  I’m going to have to follow this to see what they come up with.

    You guys should all come to my astronomy class when I’m talking about big bang theory, origin of life, and all that stuff at the end of the semester.  I invariably have a couple of creationists in there who get horribly offended that I’m not crediting God for creating the universe in a university science class.

  4. I don’t know how much help I’d be as I’d inevitably end up shouting, “Oh, fer chrissake’s shut the HELL UP!! This isn’t seminary school!”

  5. It’s very difficult for me not to do that as well.  I’ve been trying to deal with it tactfully, but it is difficult.  My natural tendency is to be a bit impatient with them.

  6. I just read somewhere that the impact of comets and meteorites also may have played a role. I wish I could remember more, but the gist of it was that through a lab simulated impact of a meteorite containing amino acids, which they know exist in meteorites from samples collected in the past, the impact transformed the amino acids into peptides.

  7. You mean GOD didn’t create life? What a bunch of hooey! Heathen scum!

    Thanks for your input Lil’ Odelay. Coming from a self proclaimed literary genius that was quite an insightful observation..

    I wrecked curves, and my teachers crowed over my brilliance. I sang and acted and modeled and my agent and bosses lauded me as beautiful and talented. High school enemies would take it as common knowledge that I was genius at writing.

    Check out the genius at work

  8. Actually, life created God. Since men created God in their own likeness and image, life (men) created God. (RE: “Encyclopedia of Gods”, by Michael Jordan, 1993, Facts On File, Inc.)

  9. Man is also a destroyer of gods. Some gods just get demoted to monsters or star formations. Others are kept around by deranged new-age loonies, but most wither and die.

    Its funny though, we have power of life and death over them, yet give away that power to them. We let gods rule us, when without us they would be nothing. All hail Cuthulu!

  10. Some gods just get demoted to monsters

    What the Sergeant Major tells them to hand in their second stripe and they get a pay cut?

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