Aliphatic Aldehydes in the Earth's Crust—Remains of Prebiotic Chemistry?

The origin of life is a mystery that has not yet been solved in the natural sciences. Some promising interpretative approaches are related to hydrothermal activities. Hydrothermal environments contain all necessary elements for the development of precursor molecules. There are surfaces with possible catalytic activity, and wide ranges of pressure and temperature conditions. The chemical composition of hydrothermal fluids together with periodically fluctuating physical conditions should open up multiple pathways towards prebiotic molecules. In 2017, we detected potentially prebiotic organic substances, including a homologous series of aldehydes in Archean quartz crystals from Western Australia, more than 3 billion years old. In order to approach the question of whether the transformation of inorganic into organic substances is an ongoing process, we investigated a drill core from the geologically young Wehr caldera in Germany at a depth of 1000 m. Here, we show the existence of a similar homologous series of aldehydes (C8 to C16) in the fluid inclusions of the drill core calcites, a finding that supports the thesis that hydrothermal environments could possibly be the material source for the origin of life.


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