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Diamonds may have best friend to earliest life

July 29, 2008
Courtesy American Chemical Society
and World Science staff

Di­a­monds may have been life’s best friend, re­search­ers say. 

Bil­lions of years ago, the sur­face of these gems may have pro­vid­ed the right con­di­tions to fos­ter the chem­i­cal re­ac­tions be­lieved to have giv­en rise to life on Earth, ac­cord­ing to three sci­en­tists in Ger­ma­ny.

Courtesy American Chemical Society


Their study is sched­uled for pub­lica­t­ion in the Au­gust 6 is­sue of Crys­tal Growth & De­sign, a re­search jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal So­ci­e­ty.

Many scientists have the­o­rized that life’s chem­i­cal pre­cur­sors grad­u­ally evolved from a so-called “p­ri­mor­dial soup” of sim­pler mo­le­cules. But just how these sim­pler mo­le­cules, called ami­no acids, would have as­sem­bled in­to com­plex larg­er struc­tures re­mains one of sci­ence’s great mys­ter­ies.

The au­thors of the new stu­dy—Andrei Som­mer of the Uni­ver­s­ity of Ulm, Ger­ma­ny, and col­leagues—s­tud­ied di­a­monds, crys­tal­lized forms of car­bon old­er than the ear­li­est life. 

In a se­ries of lab­o­r­a­to­ry ex­pe­ri­ments, the sci­en­tists found that af­ter treat­ment with hy­dro­gen, nat­u­ral dia­mond forms crys­tal­line lay­ers of wa­ter on its sur­face. These lay­ers may have been es­sen­tial for the de­vel­op­ment of life, and in­volved in elec­tri­cal con­duc­ti­vity, the group ar­gued. In oth­er words, they ex­plained, when prim­i­tive mo­le­cules land­ed on the sur­face of these “hy­dro­genated” di­a­monds in the early at­mos­phere, the re­sult­ing chem­i­cal re­ac­tion could have gen­er­ated more com­plex or­gan­ic mo­le­cules that even­tu­ally gave rise to life.


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Diamonds may have been life’s best friend, researchers say. Billions of years ago, the surface of these gems may have provided the right conditions to foster the chemical reactions believed to have given rise to life on Earth, according to three scientists in Germany. Their study is scheduled for publication in the August 6 issue of Crystal Growth & Design, a research journal of the American Chemical Society. Many researchers have theorized that the chemical precursors of life gradually evolved from a so-called “primordial soup” of simpler molecules. But just how these simpler molecules, called amino acids, assembled into complex larger structures remains one of science’s great mysteries. The authors of the new study—Andrei Sommer of the University of Ulm, Germany, and colleagues—studied diamonds, crystallized forms of carbon older than the earliest life. In a series of laboratory experiments, the scientists found that after treatment with hydrogen, natural diamond forms crystalline layers of water on its surface, essential for the development of life, and involved in electrical conductivity. When primitive molecules landed on the surface of these “hydrogenated” diamonds in the early atmosphere, the resulting chemical reaction may have been sufficient enough to generate more complex organic molecules that eventually gave rise to life, according to Sommer and colleagues.