Status Report

With a Grain of Salt: What Halite Has to Offer to Discussions on the Origin of Life

By SpaceRef Editor
August 22, 2006
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With a Grain of Salt: What Halite Has to Offer to Discussions on the Origin of Life

Aug 2006, Vol. 6, No. 4: 625-643

Full Paper

This experimental study investigated how the dynamics of the crystallization of the evaporite mineral halite could affect the accumulation and preservation of organic macromolecules present in the crystallizing solution. Halite was grown under controlled conditions in the presence of polymer nanoparticles that acted as an analog to protocellular material. Optical microscopy, atomic force microscopy, and laser scanning confocal fluorescence microscopy were used to trace the localization of the nanoparticles during and after growth of halite crystals. The present study revealed that the organic nanoparticles were not regularly incorporated within the halite, but were very concentrated on its surfaces. Their distribution was controlled dominantly by the morphologic surface features of the mineral rather than by specific molecular interactions with an atomic plane of the mineral. This means that the distribution of organic molecules was controlled by surfaces like those of halite’s evaporitic growth forms. The experiments with halite also demonstrated that a mineral need not continuously incorporate organic molecules during its crystallization to preserve those molecules: After rejection by (non-incorporation into) the crystallizing halite, the organic nanoparticles increased in concentration in the evaporating brine. They ultimately either adsorbed in rectilinear patterns onto the hopper-enhanced surfaces and along discontinuities within the crystals, or they were encapsulated within fluid inclusions. Of additional importance in origin-of-life considerations is the fact that halite in the natural environment rapidly can change its role from that of a protective repository (in the absence of water) to that of a source of organic particles (as soon as water is present) when the mineral dissolves.

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