Life Began on Land. Darwin Was Right.

Life on Earth really did start on land in a ‘warm little pond’ and not in the oceans – just as Charles Darwin said more than 140 years ago, according to a provocative new study. The first primitive cells could have germinated in pools of condensed vapour caused by underground hot water or steam bubbling near the surface of the planet. The finding published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences challenges the widespread view that life originated in the sea.

Researchers analysed evidence of key rock chemicals in ancient inland and marine habitats and compared them with a genetic reconstruction of Earth’s first cells. Physicist Professor Dr Armen Mulkidjanian and colleagues discovered the oceans did not contain the best balance of ingredients to foster life.

Instead the simplest cells assembled in inland ‘hatcheries’ where – like the hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park today – volcanic processes actively vented vapour from the planet’s interior. The chemical composition of these emissions most closely matches the inorganic chemistry of cells, said the researchers.

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