Phosphorus mineral evolution and prebiotic chemistry: From minerals to microbes

Craig R. Walton, Oliver Shorttle, Frances E. Jenner, Helen M. Williams, Joshua Golden, Shaunna M. Morrison, Robert T. Downs, Aubrey Zerkle, Robert M. Hazen, Matthew Pasek

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

Phosphorus availability is considered a limiting factor in many scenarios for the origin of life. The concentration of P in environments of prebiotic interest will have been governed by the available mineral sources of P on the early Earth. A knowledge of early Earth P mineralogy and prevailing global and local environmental conditions is therefore needed to understand which scenarios for prebiotic chemistry are most plausible. Here, we review the plausible diversity of P-bearing phases at Earth's surface during the emergence of life. We consider phases that were delivered by meteorites (exogenous phases), as well as those that developed solely as a result of Earth system processes (endogenous phases). We take into account the known formation conditions of individual phases, as well as the observed temporal distributions of P-bearing minerals found at Earth's surface today. Our approach allows us to leverage what is known about changes in the Earth system in order to rule out the prebiotic relevance of many P-bearing phases. Meanwhile, we highlight a small number of phases that are of possible prebiotic relevance; specifically, exogenous schreibersite, merrillite, and apatite, and endogenous apatite, olivine, and glass. Prebiotic mineral-chemical scenarios can be formulated for each phase, with distinct requirements for the environmental and tectonic state of early Earth. We can therefore relate the plausibility of mineral-chemical scenarios to the nature of early Earth, bridging the fields of geoscience and prebiotic chemistry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103806
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
Volume221
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2021

Keywords

  • Chemistry
  • Early Earth
  • Geology
  • Life
  • Meteorite
  • Minerals
  • Origin
  • Phosphate
  • Phosphorus
  • Prebiotic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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