Organic molecules formed in a "primordial womb"

Lynda Williams, Brandon Canfield, Kenneth M. Voglesonger, John R. Holloway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

47 Scopus citations

Abstract

Primordial organic molecules may have evolved in seafloor hydrothermal systems by mineral catalysis. Most organic compounds decompose in >300 °C vent fluid; however, we show that smectite-type clays can protect and promote development of diverse organic compounds that may be precursors to biomolecules. Smectite provides a safe haven for the synthesis of organic molecules, essentially like a "primordial womb." Our experiments simulated seafloor hydrothermal conditions (300 °C, 10 0 MPa) and reacted common clays (montmorillonite, saponite, illite) with dilute methanol as a source of C. Montmorillonite reacts under these conditions to illite, while the other clays do not change. We observed increased organic synthesis over time with montmorillonite during mineralogical reaction. Approaching equilibrium, smectite contracts and organic molecules are expelled. Organic compounds unstable in hot fluid where the smectite reacts may survive in cooler waters outside the vent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)913-916
Number of pages4
JournalGeology
Volume33
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2005

Keywords

  • Organic synthesis
  • Seafloor hydrothermal systems
  • Smectite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology

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    Williams, L., Canfield, B., Voglesonger, K. M., & Holloway, J. R. (2005). Organic molecules formed in a "primordial womb". Geology, 33(11), 913-916. https://doi.org/10.1130/G21751.1