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The facts…….

hidden somewhere
The story….….. unrevealed
The truth….. not known exactly
The path…. untraced
An attempt to explore the way!!!
An effort to blend biology, chemistry,
and physics in the search to identify and
understand the origin of life in the
It’s a “Journey Back In Time”…
By Kalpana Stuti, Ritu, Gauri
Miranda House

Cosmic dust and gases+ H2O


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) Microsphere

Protocells( proprimitive stage before formation of true cell

Proto cells + nucleic acid = self replicating system

• “Cell” Energy Yielding System

• Chlorophyll development Photosynthesis

O2 evolved

Ozone Formation (shielding effect)

• Atmosphere changed to oxidizing from reducing.
• Evolutionof photosynthesis which is followed by

Replication Metabolism Homeostasis

Anaerobes Aerobes
Chemotrophs Heterotrophs

Chemoheterotrophs Chemoautotrophs
Prokaryotic Cells Eukaryotic cell
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

• Ancient Precambrian sediments containing sands with
reduced iron minerals found in Canada, Brazil, South

• 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.

•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

• Cinder Cone Hypothesis - Protenoid material first
polymerized on hot dry volcanic Cinder Cones and then it
was leached into oceans by rains to form microspheres.
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 Coacervate droplets formed
different from their by interaction between
surroundings and could have gelatin and gum arabic. A. I.
developed certain amount of
chemical evidences.
Starch Amylase Maltose

Chloroplast Reduced Dye
e- + Dye (colour change)
Acid + Dye
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
foundhydrothermal vents
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 high-
temperature vent
(380°C) ever seen by
scientists during a dive
of the deep-sea
submersible Alvin in
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
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
hydrothermal vents,
there is a profusion
of life that thrives
on the hydrogen
sulfide (H2S) gas
released from the
vents.and live inside
Giant tubeworms that live around hydrothermal vents
hard, shell-like on the sea floor. These creatures are about the size of
protective tubes that your hand in shallower waters, but in the ocean's deep
attach to the rocks. 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.
Energy released helps in fixing
• H2S Oxidation by
bacteria CO2 into small organic molecules
from vents

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
46% yield 15 min FeS, 500oC
20% yield
89% yield, 15 min

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
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 T
Big Bang (K)
< 10-43s Quantum era

~ 10-35s - 10-33s Inflationary epoch

~ 10-6s 1013K Quark --> Hadron transition
Time since T
Big Bang (K)
0.01s 1011K · The Universe expands rapidly,
scale is doubled every 0.02s.
· it cools, T ~ 1/R.

15s 3 x 109K · Temperature is below threshold
for creation of electron/positron
· e+/ e- annihilate
· The Universe is "reheated"
about 35% by annihilation.
3 min 109K Era of Nuclear Reactions
· Nuclei begin to hold together
Time since T
Big Bang (K)

3 &1/2 min 108K End of Nuclear Reactions
neutrons have been "used-up"
forming 4He
Universe is now 90% H nuclei( p+)
& 10% He nuclei

106yr 4000K Era of Recombination
nuclei & electrons "recombine to
form atoms

109yr 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
•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
• 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