The facts……. hidden somewhere The story….….. unrevealed The truth….. not known exactly The path….

untraced An attempt to explore the way!!! ORIGIN OF LIFE An effort to blend biology, chemistry, and physics in the search to identify and understand the origin of life in the universe It’s a “Journey Back In Time”…
By Kalpana Stuti, Ritu, Gauri Miranda House


BIG BANG Cosmic dust and gases+ H2O Oceans Haldane soup Reducing atmosphere(gases like CH4,NH3,N2,CO2,H2O responsible for abiotic synthesis of organic compounds)

Haldane Soup
Simple Molecules

Complex Molecules (building blocks)

Aggregates (coacervates and microspheres)


Protocells( proprimitive stage before formation of true cell

Proto cells + nucleic acid = self replicating system


• “Cell”
• Chlorophyll

Energy Yielding System development Photosynthesis O2 evolved Ozone Formation (shielding effect)

• Atmosphere

changed to oxidizing from reducing.

• Evolution

of photosynthesis which is followed by respiration.


Replication Anaerobes Chemotrophs


Homeostasis Aerobes Heterotrophs Chemoautotrophs Eukaryotic cell

Chemoheterotrophs Prokaryotic Cells
Endosymbiotic Theory

How Eukaryotic Cell Changed to Multicellular Organism….

• Geological Evidence • Precambrian Fossil Evidence • Laboratory Evidence

• Sedimentary rock in past 500 million years are silicate sands clay, quartz type indicating oxidizing conditions. • Ancient Precambrian sediments containing sands with reduced iron minerals found in Canada, Brazil, South Africa. • Banded iron ore deposits with mixed oxidation states in Quinland, Russia, India and Australia

• Elso Barghoorn et al studied polished thin sections of silica rich cherts from Gunflint region of Northern Minnesota and Southern Canada with optical and electron microscope. • Living organisms algae, fungi, microbes associated with banded iron ore cherts indicates that they were probably laid down under reducing atmospheric conditions.

MILLER & UREY EXPERIMENT • •A mixture of H4,NH3, H2, and water was put into a flask and energized by an electrical discharge apparatus to represent ultraviolet radiation . •The products were allowed to condense and collect in a lower flask. •. After a week, Miller and Urey found a dark brown scum had collected in the lower flask and was found to contain several types of amino acids together with sugars, tars, and various other unidentified organic chemicals.

How could polymer form in dilute aqueous solution when polymerization is a dehydration process?
• Sidney Fox experiment – Fox found that dry amino
acids heated to 160-210OC, forms polymers of molecular weight 300,000 provided mixture contains Aspartic Acid and Glutamic Acid. Thermal protenoids so formed, if washed with water, form microspheres of fairly uniform diameter of 20, 000Ao polymerized on hot dry volcanic Cinder Cones and then it was leached into oceans by rains to form microspheres.

• Cinder Cone Hypothesis - Protenoid material first

These became early segregated chemical systems and eventually led to protocells.

• They tend to concentrate some molecules in their interior and this in an ability that most primitive protocells would have acquired. Behavior of Coacervate shows how earlier protocells would have achieved internal compositions that were different from their surroundings and could have developed certain amount of chemical evidences.

Coacervate droplets formed by interaction between gelatin and gum arabic. A. I. Oparin


Amylase Amylase


Sunlight Chloroplast e- + Dye Ascorbic Acid + Dye Reduced Dye (colour change)

Organic compounds arrived from outer space It states that hydrocarbons and other organic molecules (molecules that organisms contain or that might lead to the genesis of life) have been found in meteorites –  It means that at least prebiotic chemistry that leads to the primordial soup might be going on there.

Evidences in support of this theory
• In 1969, a meteorite landed in Australia that was 12% water and contained traces of 92 amino acids. Inference- It points to not only the presence of organic compounds in outer space, but also the capacity of such compounds to reach earth. • Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe have argued persistently since the 1970s that complex organic substances, and perhaps even primitive organisms, might have evolved on the surface of comic dust grains in space and then been transported to the Earth's surface by comets and meteorites.

Where did life begin???
• There is an ongoing debate regarding the most probable site of life's origins. • The prevailing paradigm - life began near the ocean's surface, bathed in sunlight. • Current Research - life Miller and Urey foundhydrothermal vents arose near deep which is still under investigation. "Scientists have long suspected that life on Earth originated in the ocean and strong evidence now suggests that the earliest life on our planet occurred in the depths of the ocean in the absence of heat and light." -- Pulse of the Planet, American Museum of Natural History

Photograph from National Geographic magazine

Deep-sea Vents
• Their discovery in late 1970’s stretched our concept of the origin of life on earth. • Can life exist and that too thousands of meters beneath the surface of sea in absence of sunlight? • It raised the possibility that earlier vents supplied the energy and chemical precursors for origin of protobionts.

Exploring the deep ocean floor
View of the first hightemperature vent (380°C) ever seen by scientists during a dive of the deep-sea submersible Alvin in 1979. Such geothermal vents are called smokers.
This photograph shows a black smoker, but smokers can also be white, grey, or clear depending on the material being ejected. Photograph by Dudley Foster from RISE expedition

Vent Community

A vent community in its prime: Pale pink eelpout fish and white
brachyuran crabs swim and scuttle among blood-red tube worms large and small. Scientists are still trying to figure out how the offspring of such organisms disperse over long stretches of inhospitable seafloor to colonize widely separated vent systems.

Giant Clams

The size of deep-sea giant clams is evident from the hands of a scientist holding them. (Photograph by William R. Normark, USGS.)

Giant Tube Worms: RIFTIA
• On the bottom of the ocean around deep-sea hydrothermal vents, there is a profusion of life that thrives on the hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas released from the vents.and live inside hard, shell-like protective tubes that attach to the rocks.

Giant tubeworms that live around hydrothermal vents on the sea floor. These creatures are about the size of your hand in shallower waters, but in the ocean's deep they have been found as big as eight feet long!

How they live….
• These creatures lack mouths, anuses, intestines and stomachs, and scientists were at a loss to explain how these were getting nutrients to survive and grow. • Their insides are lined with bacteria that oxidize the H2S, turning it into usable nutrients for the worms. • The bacteria, in turn, benefit from the relationship because the worms deliver blood containing hemoglobin which helps the bacteria to break down the sulfides. • They live in a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria that may hold clues as to how life on earth began billions of years ago.

• H2S
Released from vents Oxidation by bacteria

Energy released helps in fixing CO2 into small organic molecules

So this cycle ... is the same metabolic pathway that is utilized by plants in photosynthesis ... takes inorganic carbon dioxide and fixes it into organic compounds that are then food. But, the difference here, the critical difference, is that rather than using sunlight, these animals and bacteria are completely independent of sunlight. They utilize chemical energy to power that reaction.

So, ever imagined a life out of toxic Hydrogen Sulphide?!

Chemical of Life - Ammonia, Produced at Vents
• Hydrothermal vents were the most likely site for NH3 production where inorganic sulphides acted as catalyst. N2 +NO2 +N03
Presumed to be present in ancient sea FeO 46% yield 15 min FeS, 500oC 89% yield, 15 min Powdered Basalt. 20% yield

Stable upto 800oC

• Since NH3 cannot survive at temperature above 800oC indicates that nitrogen would have been present only as N2 during early phase of earth’s development. • Life can exist on thermal and chemical energy as opposed to just sunlight as had been thought in the past. And so what was realized is that photosynthesis was not the only way to support life.

What has been discussed so far…
• In 1920s, Oparin and Haldane revived the doctrine of spontaneous generation in a more sophisticated form. • In 1953, American chemists Stanley Miller and Urey showed that some amino acids can be chemically produced from NH3 and CH4 • in 1970s, Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe rekindled interest in Panspermia. They found evidences, traces of life, in the intervening dust. • In 1980’s the hunt for the most probable site of life’s origin began and then we came to deep sea hydrothermal vents.This discovery stretched our concept of the origin of life on earth.

• Scientists are still debating over which came first, the nucleic acids or the proteins. • Recent experiments on the revised atmospheric conditions have been successful in producing the usual monomers and a few that were not formed in the Miller-Urey experiment. • The mass action law suggests that polymerization is not likely to have occurred in the sea, but more likely to have occurred in heated and highly concentrated pools of monomers. Treating amino acids in this manner, Sydney Fox produced polymers that aggregated into what he called proteinoids.

First proposed by George Lemaître in 1927

Salient Features
•Our Universe began as an infinitesimally small, infinitely hot, infinitely dense singularity. •Then it inflated (big bang), expanded and cooled to the size and temperature of our present Universe.

Timeline of the Big Bang

What happened after the Big Bang?
Time since Big Bang
< 10-43s ~ 10-35s - 10-33s ~ 10-6s 1013K

T (K)
Quantum era Inflationary epoch Quark --> Hadron transition

Time since Big Bang

T (K)
1011K · The Universe expands rapidly, scale is doubled every 0.02s. · it cools, T ~ 1/R. · Temperature is below threshold for creation of electron/positron pairs. · e+/ e- annihilate · The Universe is "reheated" about 35% by annihilation. Era of Nuclear Reactions · Nuclei begin to hold together


3 x 109K

3 min


Time since Big Bang
3 &1/2 min

T (K)
108K End of Nuclear Reactions neutrons have been "used-up" forming 4He Universe is now 90% H nuclei( p+) & 10% He nuclei 4000K Era of Recombination nuclei & electrons "recombine to form atoms Era of Galaxy Formation



Evidences for the Big Bang
•Galaxies are moving away from us at speeds proportional to their distance. This is called "Hubble's Law," named after Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) who discovered this phenomenon in 1929 •The abundance of the "light elements" Hydrogen and Helium found in the observable universe are thought to support the Big Bang model of origins •Cosmic Background Radiation predicted by Cosmologist George Gamov in 1948 and discovered by Arno Penzias & Robert Wilson of Bell Labs in 1965.


• The Bubble Universe / Andre Linde's Self Creating Universe • The Inflationary Theory (1981, Alan Guth ) • The Protouniverse (white hole theory) • The Steady State Theory (late 1940’s ) • The Oscillating Universe Theory (1960’s -70’s )

• • • • • • The Cosmos by Carl Sagan Text Book of Biology by Campbell The Scientific American Humphris, Susan E. and Tom McCollom. “The Cauldron Beneath the Seafloor,” Oceanus, Vol. 41, No. 2, 1998, 18. • Sawyer, Kathy. “Signs of Earliest Life in Ocean Depths— Scalding Habitat May Have Supported Microbes, Fossils Indicate,” Washington Post, June 8, 2000.

Nobody understands the origin of life. If they say they do, they are probably trying to fool you. — Ken Nealson, 2002