Public Release: 

Revolutionary new theory for origins of life on Earth

Royal Society

A totally new and highly controversial theory on the origin of life on earth, is set to cause a storm in the science world and has implications for the existence of life on other planets. Research* by Professor William Martin of the University of Dusseldorf and Dr Michael Russell of the Scottish Environmental Research Centre in Glasgow, claims that living systems originated from inorganic incubators - small compartments in iron sulphide rocks. The new theory radically departs from existing perceptions of how life developed and it will be published in Philosophical Transactions B, a learned journal produced by the Royal Society.

Since the 1930s the accepted theories for the origins of cells and therefore the origin of life, claim that chemical reactions in the earth's most ancient atmosphere produced the building blocks of life - in essence - life first, cells second and the atmosphere playing a role.

Professor Martin and Dr Russell have long had problems with the existing hypotheses of cell evolution and their theory turns traditional views upside down. They claim that cells came first. The first cells were not living cells but inorganic ones made of iron sulphide and were formed not at the earth's surface but in total darkness at the bottom of the oceans. Life, they say, is a chemical consequence of convection currents through the earth's crust and in principle, this could happen on any wet, rocky planet.

Dr Russell says: "As hydrothermal fluid - rich in compounds such as hydrogen, cyanide, sulphides and carbon monoxide - emerged from the earth's crust at the ocean floor, it reacted inside the tiny metal sulphide cavities. They provided the right microenvironment for chemical reactions to take place. That kept the building blocks of life concentrated at the site where they were formed rather than diffusing away into the ocean. The iron sulphide cells, we argue, is where life began."

One of the implications of Martin and Russell's theory is that life on our planet, even on other planets or some large moons in our own solar system, might be much more likely than previously assumed.

The research by Professor Martin and Dr Russell is backed up by another paper The redox protein construction kit: pre-last universal common+ ancestor evolution of energy-conserving enzymes by F. Baymann, E. Lebrun, M. Brugna, B. Schoepp-Cothenet, M.-T. Giudici-Orticoni & W. Nitschke which will be published in the same edition.

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*On the origins of cells: a hypothesis for the evolutionary transitions from abiotic geochemistry to chemoautotrophic prokaryotes, and from prokaryotes to nucleated cells by Professor William Martin, Institut fuer Botanik III, University of Dusseldorf and Dr Michael Russell, Scottish Environmental Research Centre, Glasgow.

NOTES TO EDITORS:
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
PLEASE ACKNOWLEDGE PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS B AS THE SOURCE FOR ANY ITEMS USED

Introduction
J. F. Allen & J. A. Raven

Genomes at the interface between bacteria and organelles A.E. Douglas & J. A. Raven

The function of genomes in bioenergetic organelles J. F. Allen

How big is the iceberg of which organellar genes in nuclear genomes are but the tip? W. F. Doolittle, Y. Boucher, C. L. Nesbø, C. Douady, J. O. Andersson & A. J. Roger

On the origins of cells: a hypothesis for the evolutionary transitions from abiotic geochemistry to chemoautotrophic prokaryotes, and from prokaryotes to nucleated cells W. Martin & M. J. Russell

Eukaryotic genome evolution: rearrangement and coevolution of compartmentalized genetic information R. G. Herrmann, R. M. Maier and C. Schmitz-Linneweber

Evolution of the chloroplast genome C. J. Howe, A. C. Barbrook, V. L. Koumandou, R. E. R. Nisbet, H. A. Symington & T. F. Wightman

Genomic reduction and evolution of novel genetic membranes and protein-targeting machinery in eukaryote-eukaryote chimaeras (meta-algae) T. Cavalier-Smith

Coordination of plastid and nuclear gene expression J. C. Gray, J. A. Sullivan, J.-H. Wang, C. A. Jerome & D. MacLean

Redox and light regulation of gene expression in photosynthetic prokaryotes C. Bauer, S. Elsen, L. R. Swem, D. L. Swem & S. Masuda

Parasite plastids: maintenance and functions R. J. M. Wilson, K. Rangachari, J. W. Saldanha, L. Rickman, R. S. Buxton & J. F. Eccleston

On the origin of mitochondria: a genomics perspective S. G. E. Andersson, O. Karlberg, B. Canbäck & C. G. Kurland

Gene expression in plant mitochondria: transcriptional and post-transcriptional control S. Binder and A. Brennicke

Mitochondria and hydrogenosomes are two forms of the same fundamental organelle T. M. Embley, M. van der Giezen, D. S. Horner, P. L. Dyal & P. Foster

Biochemical and evolutionary aspects of anaerobically functioning mitochondria J. J. van Hellemond, A. van der Klei, S. W. H. van Weelden & A. G. M. Tielens

General discussion

Evolution of photosynthetic prokaryotes: a maximum-likelihood mapping approach J. Raymond, O. Zhaxybayeva, J. P. Gogarten & R. E. Blankenship

Type I photosynthetic reaction centres: structure and function P. Heathcote, M. R. Jones & P. K. Fyfe

Photosystem II: evolutionary perspectives A. W. Rutherford & P. Faller

C-type cytochromes: diverse structures and biogenesis systems pose evolutionary problems J. W. A. Allen, O. Daltrop, J. M. Stevens & S. J. Ferguson

The redox protein construction kit: pre-last universal common+ ancestor evolution of energy-conserving enzymes F. Baymann, E. Lebrun, M. Brugna, B. Schoepp-Cothenet, M.-T. Giudici-Orticoni & W. Nitschke

The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society and as a funding agency. It responds to individual demand with selection by merit not by field. The Society's objectives are:

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