Red Planet Pen (#36): Origin of Life Theories & Mars Exploration

By Bob Bruner (guest writer)

Red Planet Pen, Issue #36

Bob Bruner has attended and presented at the scientific conferences described below since 2015.  His contribution is entitled “Special Exhibit on Meteorites and Minerals associated with the Origin of Life on Earth or Mars” and can be found on the web. He is a long-time member of the Mars Society and is a volunteer at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Four popular origin of life theories that have influenced the hunt for life on Mars.  The first are the clay theories which probably started in the late 1950’s with Dr. Bernal of the UK.  They were further developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s by Dr. Cairns-Smith of the UK, then in the 1990’s by Dr. Ferris of the USA.  They were added to in the 2000’s by Dr. Hashizume of Japan and Dr. Hansma of the USA.  The theories claim that the structure of clay can provide compartments for proto life to begin, with large molecules like RNA developing later.

The second are the Black Smoker-type hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean theories primarily developed by Dr. Wachtershauser of Germany with an emphasis on iron-sulfur and Dr. Mulkidjanian of Germany with an additional emphasis on zinc.  These theories claim that the minerals have the ability of powering the chemical reactions that allow small organic molecules to get larger and larger, ultimately becoming proto life.  They were popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The third are the warm hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean theories primarily developed by Dr. Russell of the USA, Dr. Sleep of the USA, Dr. Schulte of the USA, and Dr. Holm of Sweden.  These theories took off when the Lost City hydrothermal field was discovered by Dr. Kelley of the USA in the 2000’s.  The process of serpentinization, where olivine/pyroxene interacts with CO2 and sea water to produce serpentine, magnetite, brucite, CH4 and H2, gives new proto life energy and food.

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