A new study demonstrates that thioacids, chemicals that could have played a role in the origin of life, can potentially be formed around deep sea vents.

Scientists have theorized that thioacids could have had a role in the evolution of prebiotic chemicals that led to the origin of life on Earth. Thioacids are formed when oxygen atoms in an acid molecule are replaced with sulfur. Thanks to a new study, astrobiologists are gaining new insight into how these molecules could have formed in liquid water without the presence of biology. In the new study, researchers found that amino acids can be converted to amino thioacids when carbonyl sulfide (COS) is present. Interestingly, COS can be found in emissions from volcanic, deep sea vents. This provides further information about the potential role of deep sea vent environments in the origins of life on Earth.

The study, “Potentially Prebiotic Synthesis of α-Amino Thioacids in Water,” was published in the journal Synlett. The work was supported by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program.