Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres

, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 109–126 | Cite as

An Evaluation of the Critical Parameters for Abiotic Peptide Synthesis in Submarine Hydrothermal Systems

  • H. J. Cleaves
  • A. D. Aubrey
  • J. L. BadaEmail author
Prebiotic Chemistry


It has been proposed that oligopeptides may be formed in submarine hydrothermal systems (SHSs). Oligopeptides have been synthesized previously under simulated SHS conditions which are likely geochemically implausible. We have herein investigated the oligomerization of glycine under SHS–like conditions with respect to the limitations imposed by starting amino acid concentration, heating time, and temperature. When 10−1 M glycine solutions were heated at 250°C for < 20 min glycine oligomers up to tetramers and diketopiperazine (DKP) were detectable. At 200°C, less oligomerization was noted. Peptides beyond glycylglycine (gly2) and DKP were not detected below 150°C. At 10−2 M initial glycine concentration and below, only gly2, DKP, and gly3 were detected, and then only above 200°C at < 20 min reaction time. Gly3 was undetectable at longer reaction times. The major parameters limiting peptide synthesis in SHSs appear to be concentration, time, and temperature. Given the expected low concentrations of amino acids, the long residence times and range of temperatures in SHSs, it is unlikely that SHS environments were robust sources of even simple peptides. Possible unexplored solutions to the problems presented here are also discussed.


Submarine hydrothermal vents Peptides Amino acids Prebiotic chemistry Origin of life Chemical evolution 



The authors would like to thank Dr. John H. Chalmers for assistance in the laboratory and Professor Joris Gieskes and Dr. Evan Solomon for discussions about the dynamics of hydrothermal vent systems. This work was supported by the NASA Specialized Center of Research and Training (NSCORT) in Exobiology and a grant from the UCSD Academic Senate committee on Research, and in part by an appointment to the NASA Postdoctoral Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, administered by Oak Ridge Associated Universities through a contract with NASA.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geophysical LaboratoryThe Carnegie Institution of WashingtonWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Jet Propulsion LaboratoryPasadenaUSA
  3. 3.Geosciences Research DivisionScripps Institution of OceanographyLa JollaUSA

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