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Geochemical Constraints for Prebiotic Chemistry

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Owen Weller.

The question “where did life begin?” could be about many things on many different scales, from what sort of planets on which life could originate, all the way to pointing out the specific pond, or stream, or vent in which life began. All of these senses are connected to the environmental conditions for the chemical mechanism that lead from prebiotically plausible starting materials to, eventually, life as we know it. I will focus on a promising photochemical pathway to form the building blocks of RNA , proteins and lipids. Along with ultraviolet light, this chemistry requires a variety of feedstock chemical species (hydrogen cyanide, cyanoacetylene, cyanamide, sulfites, nitrites, phosphates, ferrous iron, in liquid water) that are most likely to form at very diverse environmental oxidation states. I will discuss two scenarios that can provide some of these feedstock species, one endogenous and one exogenous, and will suggest how future experiments may help constrain whether these scenarios would actually function as reasonable starting conditions for this prebiotic pathway. I will finish by talking about how observations of exoplanets may help to constrain some of the global conditions needed for each of these scenarios.

This talk is part of the Department of Earth Sciences Seminars (downtown) series.

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