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Charles Darwin ‘may have been wrong about where life came from’

Yahoo! News UK 05/11/2019 Rob Waugh

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Did life start on the surface of our planet in a ‘warm little pond’ as Charles Darwin believed - or did it bubble up from deep beneath the sea?

New research suggests that Darwin may have been wrong about the ‘warm little pond’ - and instead, life began in deep sea hydrothermal vents.

The finding could have an impact on where we search for extraterrestrial life.

a man standing in front of a window: Detail of statue of Charles Darwin in Natural History Museum Detail of statue of Charles Darwin in Natural History Museum

Professor Nick Lane of University College London said, “There are multiple competing theories as to where and how life started.

“Underwater hydrothermal vents are among the most promising locations for life's beginnings — our findings now add weight to that theory with solid experimental evidence.’

The reserachers believe that deep-sea vents had the heat and chemical make-up to kick-start life.

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The vents are where seawater comes into contact with minerals from the planet's crust, reacting to create a warm, alkaline environment containing hydrogen.

Some of the world’s oldest fossils have been found in the vents.

The UCL researchers succeeded in creating self-assembling protocells (thought to be building blocks of life) in an environment similar to that of hydrothermal vents.

Antique copy of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, first published in 1859 it is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology © Duncan Walker Antique copy of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, first published in 1859 it is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology

Dr Sean Jordan said, "In our experiments, we have created one of the essential components of life under conditions that are more reflective of ancient environments than many other laboratory studies,".

"We still don't know where life first formed, but our study shows that you cannot rule out the possibility of deep-sea hydrothermal vents."

The researchers also point out that deep-sea hydrothermal vents are not unique to Earth.

Concept about the evolution - from fish to human. © eli_asenova Concept about the evolution - from fish to human.

Professor Lane said: "Space missions have found evidence that icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn might also have similarly alkaline hydrothermal vents in their seas. While we have never seen any evidence of life on those moons, if we want to find life on other planets or moons, studies like ours can help us decide where to look."

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