Tiny volcanic cracks ‘incubated’ ancient DNA

Feb 5, 2015


By Emma Stoye

Tiny pores within volcanic rocks on ancient Earth may have provided the ideal conditions for replicating molecules, and could also have driven the evolution of longer and longer genetic sequences, researchers in Germany have shown.

One puzzling dilemma of origin of life simulations is that shorter fragments of genetic material replicate faster than longer ones and tend to out-compete them. This trend favours the loss of information over time rather than the development of longer strands.

But Dieter Braun and colleagues at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich think conditions that favour the opposite – as well as concentrating molecules in the primordial soup – could have existed inside tiny cracks within heated volcanic rocks on the sea bed millions of years ago.

‘We thought that a thermal gradient across a porous rock is a most simple and very common setting on the early Earth,’ says Braun. ‘That it can solve so many problems for the origin of life was actually not expected!’

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