Complex organics are formed at hydrothermal vents

Complex organics, such as α-amino acids, could have formed at hydrothermal vents on the early Earth, due to water-rock interactions and high temperatures that occur near these sites.

Complex organics are not formed at hydrothermal vents

Complex organics cannot form at hydrothermal vents because of degradation at high temperatures and because prebiological chemical evolution likely occurred in dry phases, instead of wet phases like those around hydrothermal vents.
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Formation of complex organics at high temperatures and the implications for the origin of life


α-hydroxy acids and α-amino acids can form at hydrothermal temperatures

eα-hydroxy acids and α-amino acids can be synthesized at volcanic/hydrothermal sites at temperatures of 145 to 280°C


Hydrothermal vent temperatures would decompose organic compounds

eThe high temperatures in hydrothermal vents would not allow synthesis of organic compounds, but would instead decompose them


Extreme thermophiles cannot protect against hydrolysis and degradation at high temperatures

eExtreme thermophiles do not possess mechanisms to protect their macromolecular components against hydrolysis and degradation at high temperatures, like those around hydrothermal vents


Due to the accumulation of formamide in hydrothermal pores, prebiotic nucleobases can form

ePrebiotic nucleobases can be formed in hydrothermal pores, through a significant accumulation of formamide resulting from a combination of thermophoresis and convection


Around the origin of life, hydrogen cyanide (HCN) would not have been present in hydrothermal vents because they are too hot to have sufficient concentrations of HCN to form polymers

eHydrogen cyanide (HCN) would not have been present in sufficient concentrations to polymerize in the primitive ocean to produce nucleic acid bases and amino acids

Early Earth conditions


Alkaline hydrothermal vent conditions could have driven prebiotic chemistry and caused the divergence of bacteria and archaea

eThe evolution of active ion pumping could have driven the deep divergence of bacteria and archaea, due to the possible ancestral mechanism of CO2 reduction in alkaline hydrothermal vents


β-amino acids are more likely to be produced near hydrothermal vents rather than α-amino acids, when subjected to simulated primitive Earth conditions

eThe pyrolytic synthesis of amino acids is not an efficient process because the yields are extremely low and the products are mostly β-amino acids, not the α-amino acids found in proteins


Protein envelopes were constructed from amino acids under simulated primitive earth conditions and held at high temperatures

eThe production of polymers with peptide bonds in modified sea water containing amino acids held at hot-spring temperatures

Formation of complex organics under wet conditions


Consecutive stages in prebiological chemical evolution might have occurred in dry phases, instead of wet phases like those around hydrothermal vents

eThe prebiotic synthesis of purine nucleosides is most efficient when it is carried out under dry conditions


Protocell structures could have been rapidly produced in hydrothermal vents as soon as they formed in the Archean oceans

eArchean fossil-bearing rocks, water-rock interactions and the abiotic synthesis of organic molecules and primitive organized structures suggests that submarine hot springs were the site for the synthesis of organic compounds, leading to the first living organisms on earth