Understanding Evolution

Where did life originate?

Hydrothermal vent photo
A hydrothermal vent at the bottom of the ocean
Scientists are exploring several possible locations for the origin of life, including tide pools and hot springs. However, recently some scientists have narrowed in on the hypothesis that life originated near a deep sea hydrothermal vent. The chemicals found in these vents and the energy they provide could have fueled many of the chemical reactions necessary for the evolution of life. Furthermore, using the DNA sequences of modern organisms, biologists have tentatively traced the most recent common ancestor of all life to an aquatic microorganism that lived in extremely high temperatures — a likely candidate for a hydrothermal vent inhabitant! Although several lines of evidence are consistent with the hypothesis that life began near deep sea vents, it is far from certain: the investigation continues and may eventually point towards a different site for the origin of life.


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Hydrothermal vent photo courtesy of Verena Tunnicliffe, University of Victoria

Understanding Evolution © 2015 by The University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, and the Regents of the University of California