The glassy, porous, and once gas-rich rock called pumice may have given rise to early life forms, according to a provocative new hypothesis on the origin of life published in Astrobiology, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc..
Martin Brasier, Richard Matthewman, and Sean McMahon, University of Oxford (U.K.), and David Wacey, University of Western Australia (Crawley), contend that pumice has "four remarkable properties" that would enable it to have had "a significant role in the origin of life and provided an important habitat for the earliest communities of microorganisms." They describe those four properties in detail in the article "Pumice as a Remarkable Substrate for the Origin of Life."
To validate their hypothesis, the authors call for laboratory research to test the ability of pumice rock to adsorb organic compounds from water and create catalysts and new compounds by simulating the thermal cycles, UV light, and other conditions that existed when the first organic polymers and microbes co-existed.
"The hypothesis that pumice provided a unique physical substrate in which life got its start is exciting and testable," says Sherry L. Cady, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of Astrobiology and Professor in the Department of Geology at Portland State University. "Key for astrobiology is whether such rock types preserved evidence of pre-biotic reactions or ancient life forms in the rock record."
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The article is available free online at www.liebertpub.com/ast for the next week.