Organic compounds in fluid inclusions of Archean quartz—Analogues of prebiotic chemistry on early Earth
The origin of life is still an unsolved mystery in science. Hypothetically, prebiotic chemistry and the formation of protocells may have evolved in the hydrothermal environment of tectonic fault zones in the upper continental crust, an environment where sensitive molecules are protected against degradation induced e.g. by UV radiation. The composition of fluid inclusions in minerals such as quartz crystals which have grown in this environment during the Archean period might provide important information about the first organic molecules formed by hydrothermal synthesis. Here we present evidence for organic compounds which were preserved in fluid inclusions of Archean quartz minerals from Western Australia. We found a variety of organic compounds such as alkanes, halocarbons, alcohols and aldehydes which unambiguously show that simple and even more complex prebiotic organic molecules have been formed by hydrothermal processes. Stable-isotope analysis confirms that the methane found in the inclusions has most likely been formed from abiotic sources by hydrothermal chemistry. Obviously, the liquid phase in the continental Archean crust provided an interesting choice of functional organic molecules. We conclude that organic substances such as these could have made an important contribution to prebiotic chemistry which might eventually have led to the formation of living cells.
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