One of the most popular theories in science today argues that life arrived on Earth from outer space, i.e. from bacteria which were brought to our planet by a meteor. However, another point of view, which seems indeed to have potentially broader support, insists that it is very likely that the earthly life was born right here, in extreme environment of the young Earth, like the one we can find today in the hydrothermal resources in the ocean floor. A team of researchers from both sides of the Atlantic has launched an experiment to “test out” this probability by creating a specially designed battery in the laboratory.
Vital chemical reactions
The hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, which sometimes are called “smokers”, are slots from which geothermal water originates and spreading ridges are formed. Scientists believe that these “hot” spots could be created in such conditions that life could arise from ‘lifeless’ material through chemical reactions of the components present in rocks and gases.
“It could be said that before the biological life the early Earth had a “geological” life. This may sound unusual to think that geology, which studies lifeless stones and minerals, may make assumptions about life. But what is life? Many have failed to give a satisfactory answer to this question,” said in a press release Terry Kee of the School of Chemistry at the University of Leeds in Britain, former lead researcher of the experiment, which was conducted in collaboration with researchers of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA in California.
Life in a battery
Car batteries produce electricity through chemical reactions, oxidation and reduction, which also form the basis for the production of energy by photosynthesis in plants and the respiration of cells in humans. At the same time, some geological environments, such as geothermal resources, may be considered “environmental fuel cells” that produce energy through oxidation and reduction reactions between hydrothermal fuel and oxidizing seawater as oxygen.
In the first study, which was published in the journal «Astrobiology», scientists presented their idea of examining the likelihood of cellular metabolism on Earth with the help of such “environmental fuel cell” model. According to Laurie Barge of the Astrobiology Institute «Icy Worlds» of JPL, who led the study, the results that can be achieved with the help of this approach will not be true exclusively for life on Earth but also on the possible existence of life on other planets. “These experiments have to do with the electrical energy produced by geological systems, so we can use them to simulate the environments on other planets with liquid water such as Jupiter’s moon Europe or early Mars.“