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Journal Article

Catalysts, autocatalysis and the origin of metabolism

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Preiner, M., Xavier, J. C., Vieira, A. d. N., Kleinermanns, K., Allen, J. F., & Martin, W. F. (2019). Catalysts, autocatalysis and the origin of metabolism. INTERFACE FOCUS, 9(6): 20190072. doi:10.1098/rsfs.2019.0072.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000C-7108-C
If life on Earth started out in geochemical environments like hydrothermal vents, then it started out from gasses like CO2, N-2 and H-2. Anaerobic autotrophs still live from these gasses today, and they still inhabit the Earth's crust. In the search for connections between abiotic processes in ancient geological systems and biotic processes in biological systems, it becomes evident that chemical activation (catalysis) of these gasses and a constant source of energy are key. The H-2-CO2 redox reaction provides a constant source of energy and anabolic inputs, because the equilibrium lies on the side of reduced carbon compounds. Identifying geochemical catalysts that activate these gasses en route to nitrogenous organic compounds and small autocatalytic networks will be an important step towards understanding prebiotic chemistry that operates only on the basis of chemical energy, without input from solar radiation. So, if life arose in the dark depths of hydrothermal vents, then understanding reactions and catalysts that operate under such conditions is crucial for understanding origins.