Study: life may have bubbled out of Greenland volcano

Despite being one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, scientists believe Greenland may be the place where life first began.

A study of mud volcanoes in Isua, southwest Greenland, concluded that biomolcules, known as the building blocks of life, were brought to the Earth’s surface during eruptions 3.8 billion years ago.

A previous theory that the first living creatures emerged from underwater volcanoes has now been questioned by scientists who say that the environment would have been too acidic for life to form. Looking for an alternative, the research team from the Laboratory of Geology in France found deposits of a life-forming mineral, serpentinite, on Greenland’s oldest rocks.

Further analysis of the rocks suggested that Greenland’s mud volcanoes offered a warm and non-acidic environment, perfect for the birth of life. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that single-cell organism could have first evolved here, eventually turning into multi-cell organisms, eventually including mammals.

Lead researcher Marie-Laure Pons said, “The mud volcanoes at Isua thus represent a particularly favourable setting for the emergence of primitive terrestrial life.”

In response to the study, Dr Simon Underdown, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford Brookes University, told the Daily Mail, “We know so little about the origins of life four billion years ago, and if this is right it means early life formed with very little water, which is interesting in terms of life that may be found on other planets. But this may not have been the only site at which life formed, as there may have been several, some of which later died out,” he added.

(Photo: Anders Peter Amsnæs)