ScienceDaily (Jan. 31, 2008) — Hydrocarbons -- molecules critical to life -- are being generated by the simple interaction of seawater with the rocks under the Lost City hydrothermal vent field in the mid-Atlantic Ocean.
Being able to produce building blocks of life makes Lost City-like vents even stronger contenders as places where life might have originated on Earth, according to Giora Proskurowski and Deborah Kelley, two authors of a paper in the Feb. 1 Science. Researchers have ruled out carbon from the biosphere as a component of the hydrocarbons in Lost City vent fluids.
Hydrocarbons, molecules with various combinations of hydrogen and carbon atoms, are key to cellular life. For instance, cell walls can be built from simple hydrocarbon chains and amino acids are short hydrocarbon chains hooked up with nitrogen, oxygen or sulfur atoms.
"The generation of hydrocarbons was the very first step, otherwise Earth would have remained lifeless," says lead author Proskurowski, who conducted the research while earning his doctorate from the University of Washington and during post-doctoral work at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Read the whole thing here.