CRC 235 Emergence of Life

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May - Graduate School Meeting

hosting Michael J. Russell from California Institute of Technology


Location: Seidlvilla - Zenzl-Mühsam-Saal, Nikolaiplatz 1b 80802, Munich

Time                  Event
11:00-12:30      Virtual lab tours by students
12:30-13:00      Lunch Break
13:00-14:30      General Scientific Training with Prof. William Orsi
14:30-15:00      Coffee Break
15:00-17:00      Guest Speaker: Talk & Discussion
                          Michael Russell (NASA Jet Propulsion Leboratory - California Institute of Technology)
                          Why Does Life Start, What Does It Do, Where Will It Be, and How Might We Find It?
17:00-open end  Self-cooking & Dinner, Drinks

Why Does Life Start, What Does It Do, Where Will It Be, and How Might We Find It?

Michael J, Russell, Interim Employment Program, JPL, NASA

Life was driven into being on our planet to resolve the disequilibria between the fuels H2 and CH4 emanating from submarine hydrothermal alkaline springs (pH ~11), as against the CO2 and NOx in the ancient atmosphere and dissolved in the acidulous ocean (pH ~5.5). The two fluids – one reduced and the other relatively oxidized – were kept at bay by the precipitation at the spring of iron minerals such as mackinawite (FeS) and the variable valence and pliable green rust ([FeII4FeIII2(OH)12][CO3]•3H2O). It was in these mineral barriers that this free energy (redox and pH) was first converted, via a proto-metabolism, to organic molecules. Thus, we can say that life hydrogenated, and still hydrogenates, carbon dioxide. Therefore, we may expect life to emerge on any wet and rocky world that has a partly CO2-rich ocean. It should reveal itself either as whole cells or as bioorganic molecules that themselves are far-from-thermodynamic equilibrium.
A pedagogical analogy between the alkaline vent site for the emergence of life and rocketry is offered, in that fuels and oxidants in both are somewhat similar as figured below. It is clear, for example, that the rocket is driven by the high entropy exhaust gases generated in the low entropy environment of the combustion chamber. Likewise, it is the waste from the low entropy feeds to life that keep it sustained and working. Indeed, life also uses nano-engines such as Complex 1 and ATPase to couple exergonic reactions to endergonic ones. Thus, life can be said to transcend chemistry, i.e., it can react hydrogen (or the electrons therefrom), generated geochemically as in hydrothermal convection, or photolytically as in oxygenic photosynthesis to generate a small but ever continuous supply of very particular organic molecules on our planet.