From volcanic origins of chemoautotrophic life to Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya

Günter Wächtershäuser

Abstract

The theory of a chemoautotrophic origin of life in a volcanic iron–sulphur world postulates a pioneer organism at sites of reducing volcanic exhalations. The pioneer organism is characterized by a composite structure with an inorganic substructure and an organic superstructure. Within the surfaces of the inorganic substructure iron, cobalt, nickel and other transition metal centres with sulphido, carbonyl and other ligands were catalytically active and promoted the growth of the organic superstructure through carbon fixation, driven by the reducing potential of the volcanic exhalations. This pioneer metabolism was reproductive by an autocatalytic feedback mechanism. Some organic products served as ligands for activating catalytic metal centres whence they arose. The unitary structure–function relationship of the pioneer organism later gave rise to two major strands of evolution: cellularization and emergence of the genetic machinery. This early phase of evolution ended with segregation of the domains Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya from a rapidly evolving population of pre-cells. Thus, life started with an initial, direct, deterministic chemical mechanism of evolution giving rise to a later, indirect, stochastic, genetic mechanism of evolution and the upward evolution of life by increase of complexity is grounded ultimately in the synthetic redox chemistry of the pioneer organism.

Keywords:

Footnotes

  • One contribution of 19 to a Discussion Meeting Issue ‘Conditions for the emergence of life on the early Earth’.

View Full Text