Life may have originated in deep-sea hydrothermal vents

Life on Earth may have originated in hydrothermal vents where acidic seawater met with alkaline fluid from the planet's crust, according to a new theory.

The theory proposes that the primordial life-forms that gave rise to all life on Earth left deep-sea vents because of their "invention" of a tiny pump.

These primitive cellular pumps would have powered life-giving chemical reactions, LiveScience reported.

The idea could help explain two mysteries of life's early origin: How did the earliest proto-cells power chemical reactions to make the organic building blocks of life; and how did they leave hydrothermal vents to colonise early Earth's oceans?

Authors of the theory in the journal Cell argue the environmental conditions in porous hydrothermal vents where heated, mineral-laden seawater spews from cracks in the ocean crust - created a gradient in positively charged protons that served as a "battery" to fuel the creation of organic molecules and proto-cells.

Later, primitive cellular pumps gradually evolved the ability to use a different type of gradient - the difference in sodium particles inside and outside the cell - as a battery to power the construction of complex molecules like proteins. And, the proto-cells could leave the deep-sea hydrothermal vents.

Now, study co-author Nick Lane, a researcher at the University College London and William Martin, of the Institute of Molecular Evolution at the Heinrich Heine University in Germany, propose that the rocky mineral walls in ocean-floor vents could have provided the means for early life.

"At the time of life's origin, the early ocean was acidic and filled with positively charged protons, while the deep-sea vents spewed out bitter alkaline fluid, which is rich in negatively charged hydroxide ions," Lane told the website.

"The vents created furrowed rocky, iron- and sulfur-rich walls full of tiny pores that separated the warm alkaline vent fluid from the cooler, acidic seawater. The interface between the two created a natural charge gradient. It's a little bit like a battery," Lane said.

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