Earth, Space, and Environmental Chemistry

Can prebiotic reaction systems survive in the wild? An interference chemistry approach



The origin of life occurred by a series of prebiotic reaction pathways (collectively a system) hosted in one or more geochemical environments (together forming an origin of life scenario). State-of-the-art prebiotic chemistry links together reactions to create systems, intended to be more representative of the diverse chemical pathways that may have proceeded on early Earth. By practical necessity, prebiotic systems chemistry must be investigated under simplified conditions in comparison to likely natural environments. The mismatch in complexity between lab and environment poses a challenge: how to build systems chemistry that is robust not only in the idealised conditions of a lab, but also under natural levels of environmental stress? Here, we propose and formalise a conceptual framework for such work: interference chemistry. We define interference chemistry as the interaction between prebiotic systems chemistry and the environmental scenarios proposed to host it. Natural environments in which prebiotic chemistry could have occurred are messy, containing many spectator ions, mineral phases, and spatially and temporally variable physical processes, e.g., wet/dry cycles. Each of these environmental variables may interfere either constructively or destructively with prebiotic pathways, respectively aiding or inhibiting their efficacy. Exploring interference chemistry for a reaction system will point towards favoured or disfavoured regions of environmental parameter space. To do so, innovation is needed in both the investigation of early planetary environmental conditions, and the continued incorporation of these constraints into experimental systems chemistry. We argue that interference chemistry provides a compelling way to assess combinations of system and environment, leading the way to increasingly prebiotically plausible scenarios for the origin of life on Earth.

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