Many have told us that the essential elements for life are coal, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, or CHON. But what if we put them all together and then turn them around ... What would it be? I could not tell you what comes out safely, but it would not be life.
Today, we are still trying to discover the recipe for life, and there are many theories, from hydrothermal vents to small gaps between ice crystals. Today I present one of these recipes, in which the main ingredient is pumice stone; A volcanic rock so light that it floats in the water.
Pumice stone on a bill, showing how light this rock is. Photo by Robert DuHamel, via wikimedia.
Pumice is created when lava is suddenly degassed upon exiting a volcano. Imagine that they shake for a while a bottle of soda and then they open it suddenly, drawing a lot of foam. In the case of pumice, lava, which is very viscous, cools and quickly solidifies leaving a glassy foam with a few crystals. As in these times, these rocks formed a floating platform, but since there were no organisms like cirripedes and worms that colonized it and ended up sinking; This rock shelf could remain on the surface of the sea for hundreds or even thousands of years, until it ended up stranded on a beach or sinking into the ocean.
Electric storm in a volcanic eruption. Photo by Oliver Spalt, vi wikimedia
The good thing is that you did not have to go far to get this energy. One of these sources turned out to be ultraviolet light, which was much more intense than now. Before, there was almost no oxygen in the atmosphere, much less a layer of ozone thick enough to stop much of the ultraviolet rays. Other sources of energy were temperature changes, and when these rafts were stranded on the coasts, dried at low tide and wet at high tide. This created changes in the concentration of salts, and that could be used as a source of energy by chemosmotic membranes. Thunderstorms, as already mentioned, also provided energy for the synthesis of many organic molecules.
But for many reactions needed for life, catalysts are needed. Without these, many reactions would be too slow, the formation of long organic polymers would take so long that they would break down before forming complex molecules. We are lucky that our main ingredients, pumice and sea water, have everything we need. It is thought that in the ancient sea there were many more dissolved metals. These reacted with elements of the pumice stone, forming catalysts such as titanium dioxide, which today is used together with ultraviolet light to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, oxidize hydrocarbons and synthesize ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen. Others like certain clays would help polymerize amino acids and nucleotides, that pumice would keep protected from ultraviolet light and extreme temperatures, since both could undo these delicate polymers.
Now imagine, almost four billion years ago, in a calm sea you see a raft of pumice floating in the sea. On the horizon you see a steaming volcano, but that and the climate is all the activity that sees the raft, there are no whales singing under the sea, there are no fish that approach the raft to inspect it, there are not the microscopic battles that Occur all the time around us; Just that raft accumulating fats and proteins with the possibility that these macromolecules begin the path that will lead to our existence. Or maybe while that raft floats quietly, in another place complex molecules are forming that will eventually create life.
Reference: Martin D. Brasier, Richard Matthewman, Sean McMahon, and David Wacey ) Pumice as a remarkable substrate for the origin of life.
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