Abstract: Abiotic hydrocarbons and carboxylic acids are known to be formed on Earth, notably during the hydrothermal alteration of mantle rocks. Although the abiotic formation of amino acids has been predicted both from experimental studies and thermodynamic calculations, its occurrence has not been demonstrated in terrestrial settings. Here, using a multimodal approach that combines high-resolution imaging techniques, we obtain evidence for the occurrence of aromatic amino acids formed abiotically and subsequently preserved at depth beneath the Atlantis Massif (Mid-Atlantic Ridge). These aromatic amino acids may have been formed through Friedel-Crafts reactions catalysed by an iron-rich saponite clay during a late alteration stage of the massif serpentinites. Demonstrating the potential of fluid-rock interactions in the oceanic lithosphere to generate amino acids abiotically gives credence to the hydrothermal theory for the origin of life, and may shed light on ancient metabolisms and the functioning of the present-day deep biosphere.
Source: . Bénédicte Ménez, Céline Pisapia, Muriel Andreani, Frédéric Jamme, Quentin P. Vanbellingen, Alain Brunelle, Laurent Richard, Paul Dumas & Matthieu Réfrégiers. 2018.