National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

In a paper appearing in The Biological Bulletin, a research team that includes two SFI scientists proposes a type of catalyst that could have jumpstarted metabolism and life itself, deep in hydrothermal ocean vents.

According to their model, molecular structures involving transition metal elements (iron, copper, nickel, etc.) and ligands (small organic molecules) could have catalyzed the synthesis of basic biochemicals (monomers) that acted as building blocks for more complex molecules, leading ultimately to the origin of life.

The researchers – SFI External Professor Harold Morowitz of George Mason University, Vijayasarathy Srinivasan also of George Mason, and SFI Professor D. Eric Smith – did the work as part of a Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) grant from the National Science Foundation.

"You can start out with these small metal-ligand catalysts, and they'll build up the monomers that can be used to make the (large protein catalysts)," Morowitz says in Scientific Computing.

The researchers plan to recreate in the laboratory the conditions and ingredients that led to these structures.

Article in Scientific Computing

The paper in The Biological Bulletin

More about the NSF FIBR grant