Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres

, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 507–516 | Cite as

Open Questions on the Origin of Life at Anoxic Geothermal Fields

  • Armen Y. MulkidjanianEmail author
  • Andrew Yu. Bychkov
  • Daria V. Dibrova
  • Michael Y. Galperin
  • Eugene V. Koonin
Conference Report


We have recently reconstructed the ‘hatcheries’ of the first cells by combining geochemical analysis with phylogenomic scrutiny of the inorganic ion requirements of universal components of modern cells (Mulkidjanian et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 109:E821–830, 2012). These ubiquitous, and by inference primordial, proteins and functional systems show affinity to and functional requirement for K+, Zn2+, Mn2+, and phosphate. Thus, protocells must have evolved in habitats with a high K+/Na+ ratio and relatively high concentrations of Zn, Mn and phosphorous compounds. Geochemical reconstruction shows that the ionic composition conducive to the origin of cells could not have existed in marine settings but is compatible with emissions of vapor-dominated zones of inland geothermal systems. Under an anoxic, CO2-dominated atmosphere, the ionic composition of pools of cool, condensed vapor at anoxic geothermal fields would resemble the internal milieu of modern cells. Such pools would be lined with porous silicate minerals mixed with metal sulfides and enriched in K+ ions and phosphorous compounds. Here we address some questions that have appeared in print after the publication of our anoxic geothermal field scenario. We argue that anoxic geothermal fields, which were identified as likely cradles of life by using a top-down approach and phylogenomics analysis, could provide geochemical conditions similar to those which were suggested as most conducive for the emergence of life by the chemists who pursuit the complementary bottom-up strategy.


Geothermal separation Hydrothermal alteration Formamide Borate Zinc sulfide K+/Na+ ratio 



Valuable discussions with participants of the meeting on the Open Questions on the Origin of Life at the University of Leicester are greatly appreciated. This study was supported by grants from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG-Mu-1285/1-10, DFG-436-RUS 113/963/0-1), the Russian Government (№ 02.740.11.5228) and the Volkswagen Foundation to A.Y.M., from the Russian Foundation for Basic Research to A.Y.M. (RFBR 0-04-91331) and A.Y.B. (RFBR 10-05-00320), from the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst to D.V.D., and by the Intramural Research Program of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (M.Y.G., E.V.K).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Armen Y. Mulkidjanian
    • 1
    • 4
    • 5
    Email author
  • Andrew Yu. Bychkov
    • 2
  • Daria V. Dibrova
    • 1
    • 4
  • Michael Y. Galperin
    • 3
  • Eugene V. Koonin
    • 3
  1. 1.School of PhysicsUniversity of OsnabrueckOsnabrueckGermany
  2. 2.School of GeologyMoscow State UniversityMoscowRussia
  3. 3.National Center for Biotechnology InformationNational Library of Medicine, National Institutes of HealthBethesdaUSA
  4. 4.School of Bioengineering and BioinformaticsM.V. Lomonosov Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussia
  5. 5.A.N. Belozersky Institute of Physico-Chemical BiologyM.V. Lomonosov Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussia

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