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Did Life's First Cells Evolve in Geothermal Pools?

from Scientific American

Earth started as a violent place, its surface churned by continuous volcanic eruptions and cloaked in an atmosphere that would have been poisonous to today's life-forms. Furthermore, the thin primeval atmosphere may have provided only scant protection from the young sun's harsh ultraviolet glare. Given these inhospitable conditions, scientists have long wondered: How did the first cells come to be nearly four billion years ago?

Conventional scientific wisdom holds that life arose in the sea. But a new study suggests that the first cells--or at least the ones that left descendants still extant--got their start in geothermal pools, like those seen at Yellowstone National Park and other geologic hot spots today.

The argument rests on one indisputable observation--enzymes common to all archaea and bacteria are built from potassium, phosphorus or zinc, not sodium.

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