An origin of life simulator in order to mimic the emergence of proto-metabolism in the far-from-equilibrium conditions of Hadean Earth

Project abstract

Like all natural phenomena, the origin of life was probably a result of energetic disequilibria and the need for high-energy systems (Hadean Earth) of dissipating it. The goal of this project is to design, build and operate a high-pressure origin of life simulator where the conditions of Hadean hydrothermal vents will be mimicked. The current disconnect between prebiotic chemistry and ancient biochemistry is arguably the biggest problem of the research on the origin of life. Using the simulator we hope to reproduce the abiotic emergence of proto-metabolism, which will help connecting ancient geochemistry and biochemistry.

Project team

The project will be executed within the research groups of Mariëtte Wolthers, Helen King, Oliver Plümper, Paul Mason, and Inge Loes ten Kate at Utrecht University, and of Sijbren Otto at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. Principal investigator is Eloi Camprubí-Casas.

Complementary projects

The project ‘An Origin of Life Simulator’ will be complemented by a few relatively small projects, that together should supply information and context to the main project. For its first phase, the following projects have been selected. They will all be executed in 2018.

  • Bas van de Schootbrugge (UU), Kay Beets (VU), Pieter Vroon (VU), Lubos Polerecky (UU), Jack van Middelburg (UU) and Martin Schobben UU): How microbes make minerals – Biogeochemical pathways to siderite and other microbial carbonates,
  • Willem Kegel (UU), Inge Loes ten Kate (UU), Bert Weckhuysen (UU), Sander Woutersen (UvA), Annemieke Petrignani (UvA), Jan van Maarseveen (UvA), Peter Schoenmakers (UvA), Gertien Smits (UvA), and Daniel Bonn (UvA): Molecular species formed in the pre-biotic atmosphere of the earth in the presence of minerals and clay-like structures,
  • Wim Hordijk (fellow, UvA) Roberto Serra (fellow, UvA), Peter Sloot (Uva), Stuart Kauffman (fellow, UvA), Jaap Kaandorp, UvA), Sijbren Otto (RUG) and Omer Markovitch (RUG): A first step towards a computational origins simulator,
  • Laura Villanueva (NIOZ), Jaap Sinnighe Damsté (NIOZ), John van der Oost (WUR), Servé Kengen (WUR) and Jan van Maarseveen (UvA): Shedding light on the ‘lipid divide’, an enigma in the evolution of lipid membranes.