The water-air interface found at pores in volcanic rocks could have been the location of the chemical reactions that ultimately gave rise to the first cells.
A team of international researchers at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich tested a variety of reactions known to have taken part in the origin of life and found that all of these were accelerated when conducted within this volcanic bubble environment.
LMU researcher Matthias Morasch said: “The vesicles produced in this way are not perfect. But the finding nevertheless suggests how the first rudimentary protocells and their outer membranes might have been formed.”
The gas-air bubbles formed at these interfaces tend to have a warmer side, where water evaporates, and a cooler side, where the water condenses.
This cycle of evaporation and condensation results in highly concentrated molecules on the warmer side of the bubble, can be repeated an infinite number of times and has been shown to work to concentrate even very tiny molecules.
This research supports the explanatory model of the origin of life beginning at an interface such as the volcanic bubbles. Such an environment has been shown to have a concentrating effect, therefore increasing the efficiency of the chemical process eventually leading to life.
The team, led by systems biophysics Professor Dieter Braun, published their research in Nature Chemistry.