A new hypothesis has been brought forth to help shed light on the origin of life on Earth. Dr. Helene Hasma of UC Santa Barbara proposed on Tuesday that life's first biomolecules may have developed and evolved between sheets of mica. Though we do not yet know if these biomolecules were RNA or protein, the spaces between the layers of mica would have provided an environment exceptionally conducive to both biochemical reactions and subsequent evolutionary steps.
Hansma, a biophysicist, was collecting samples in a mica mine when she noticed organic material growing on the mica, and so an idea was born. There is a remarkable poetry in this hypothesis. Individual layers of mica are perfectly flat and thin, and would have acted as cell membranes for the first biomolecules, providing support, protection, and the isolation necessary for Darwinian selection and differentiation. RNAs and some proteins and lipids are negatively charged, just like mica. The distance between RNA phosphate groups is the same as the spacing between negative charges of mica. Mica is held together with potassium, which is found at the same concentration in our cells. The heating and cooling expansion of the mica layers, as well as the movement of the ocean would have provided a mechanical energy for the breaking and forming of bonds in the earliest biochemical reactions.
Granted all of this is just conjecture at this point. But this one struck me as a particularly harmonious hypothesis. I just love science!