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Searching for Life Where the Sun Don't Shine, Part Three
Origin of Life on Earth. From left to right, starting from a volcanic primitive Earth and simple molecules in the ocean to complex life forms on land. Credit: NASA
Origin of Life on Earth. From left to right, starting from a volcanic primitive Earth and simple molecules in the ocean to complex life forms on land. Credit: NASA

This is Part Three of a six-part series telling the story of humankind's efforts to understand the origins of life by studying organisms that survive deep below Earth's oceans around hydrothermal vents. In this installment, we learn about German chemist, Günter Wächtershäuser, who first proposed in 1988 that life based on chemosynthetic processes was common on Earth throughout its history and was fundamental to all living systems. Chemosynthesis is the biological conversion of carbon molecules and nutrients into organic matter - the stuff of life.

In 1977, scientists on the Galapagos Hydrothermal Expedition discovered an entire ecosystem on the ocean floor that could exist based on chemosynthesis rather than deriving energy from the Sun. Astrobiologists wondered if Wächtershäuser's theories could hold true on other worlds that lie further from the heart of our solar system.

By understanding how life can live without the Sun, we may learn about its origins on our planet and whether or not Earth is the only place in the universe capable of supporting a biosphere.

Last Updated: 26 February 2013

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Last Updated: 26 Feb 2013