2000 Annual Science Report
Pennsylvania State University Reporting | JUL 1999 – JUN 2000
The Environment of Prebiotic Earth and the Origin of Life: Experimental Approach
Our group at SUNY-Stony Brook has focussed on two research projects: a) rate of CO hydration and stability of formate and b) reduction of dinitrogen to ammonia catalyzed by minerals.
Our group at SUNY-Stony Brook has focussed on two research projects: a) rate of CO hydration and stability of formate and b) reduction of dinitrogen to ammonia catalyzed by minerals. The experimental study of the rate of CO hydration is nearly complete and a new rate equation has been derived for this process. This rate equation will be used by Jim Kasting in his effort to model the fate of atmospheric CO on an early Earth. In the second year we have also started to work on the stability of formate. Exposure to light in the absence and presence of minerals has been studied. We can demonstrate that in the presence of several minerals, formate transforms to formaldehyde. This is relevant because it indicates a reduction of formate. We have also been successful in demonstrating that dinitrogen can be reduced in the presence of iron monosulfide and hydrogen sulfide to ammonia at temperatures ranging from 120 to 150C in an all-liquid system. These experiments have been very difficult to conduct because of parallel reactions involving the metal container surfaces. Now that we have been able to overcome this hurdle, we have been able to demonstrate that small amounts of ammonia can be formed under conditions that are relevant for hydrothermal submarine vents. To our knowledge this is the first study to show this. Both these projects were included in the original proposal.
PROJECT MEMBERS:Martin Schoonen
RELATED OBJECTIVES:Objective 1.0
Determine whether the atmosphere of the early Earth, hydrothermal systems or exogenous matter were significant sources of organic matter.
Develop and test plausible pathways by which ancient counterparts of membrane systems, proteins and nucleic acids were synthesized from simpler precursors and assembled into protocells.
Replicating, catalytic systems capable of evolution, and construct laboratory models of metabolism in primitive living systems.
Describe the sequences of causes and effects associated with the development of Earth's early biosphere and the global environment.
Identify the environmental limits for life by examining biological adaptations to extremes in environmental conditions.
Define climatological and geological effects upon the limits of habitable zones around the Sun and other stars to help define the frequency of habitable planets in the universe.