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J Mol Evol. 1995;41:689-92.

The origin of life--did it occur at high temperatures?

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093-0317, USA.


A high-temperature origin of life has been proposed, largely for the reason that the hyperthermophiles are claimed to be the last common ancestor of modern organisms. Even if they are the oldest extant organisms, which is in dispute, their existence can say nothing about the temperatures of the origin of life, the RNA world, and organisms preceding the hyperthermophiles. There is no geological evidence for the physical setting of the origin of life because there are no unmetamorphosed rocks from that period. Prebiotic chemistry points to a low-temperature origin because most biochemicals decompose rather rapidly at temperatures of 100 degrees C (e.g., half-lives are 73 min for ribose, 21 days for cytosine, and 204 days for adenine). Hyperthermophiles may appear at the base of some phylogenetic trees because they outcompeted the mesophiles when they adapted to lower temperatures, possibly due to enhanced production of heat-shock proteins.

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