Phosphorus mineral evolution and prebiotic chemistry: From minerals to microbes
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.
Online Publication Date
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/M000303/1)
Natural Environment Research Council (2072939)