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Primordial soup — and a sandwich?

Philippe Starck talks about how life began in the soupe primordiale — but this week, researcher Helen Hansma of UCSB hypothesizes that molecules might have first turned into cells — life — while sheltered between sheets of mica dunked in that soup. Hansma’s “soup and a sandwich” theory was presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in Washington, D.C.

image.jpgThe space between two mica sheets, held together by potassium and bathed in salty seawater, is chemically very similar to the space inside a cell, Hansma says. And, she points out, the confined spaces formed by mica layers would have provided the isolation needed for Darwinian evolution. What’s more:

The heating and cooling of the day-to-night cycle would have caused the mica sheets to move up and down, and waves would have provided a mechanical energy source as well, according to the new model. Both forms of movement would have caused the forming and breaking of chemical bonds necessary for the earliest biochemistry.

Image: Biological molecules in spaces between mica sheets. Credit: Helen Greenwood Hansma, UCSB