Updated 9:12 AM EST, Tue, Jan 05, 2021

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Seafloor Thermal Vents May be the Source of Life on Earth

Hydrothermal vents found underwater can trigger life.

(Photo : Wikipedia) Hydrothermal vents found underwater can trigger life.

Organic molecules responsible for life on earth may have spontaneously formed from hydrothermal vents on the seabed, scientists suggest in a new study conducted by the University College London (UCL).

Researchers argued that dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) is abundant in the water that produces large amounts of energy because of its temperature and turbulence in the study published in the Chemical Communications journal.

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"There is a lot of speculation that hydrothermal vents could be the location where life on Earth began," lead researcher Nora de Leeuw said.

The study established similarities in chemical properties between enzymes that control chemical reactions in living things and mineral particles inside hot vents.

Furthermore, the study proves that the hot vents contained similar chemical properties necessary for molecular formation in living organisms, de Leeuw said.

Thus, the hot vents have the ability to produce carbon-based molecules like methanol from the dissolved CO2 in the water.

Before life on earth emerged, organic molecules were already forming and may have helped in creating the first life forms, the study suggests.

But more importantly, the study's findings offer practical applications.

For one, it supplied a method to utilize CO2 in creating carbon-based chemicals without the use of pressure or extreme heat. In addition, it showed how fuels and plastics with complex molecules could be manufactured from CO2 instead of oil.

This means that these products manufactured from non-renewable materials may be sourced from CO2, even if on a small scale. The use of carbon dioxide as a raw material is an environment-friendly alternative that spares the use of oil, according to the paper.

The team used supercomputer simulations and laboratory experiments to carry out the study. They replicated the conditions in the seafloor vents, particularly the greigite mineral submerged in hot water with dissolved CO2.

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