Imaging & Spectroscopy

The Moon-Forming Impact and the Autotrophic Origin of Life

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
Chemistry Europe
November 8, 2023
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The Moon-Forming Impact and the Autotrophic Origin of Life
The Moon-forming impact. An artist‘s impression of the collision of Theia with Earth. Credit: STEP-ANI-MOTION Studio für Computertrick GmbH, Cologne, Germany.

All ecosystems start with autotrophs, cells that convert CO2 to organics. In autotrophic theories for origins, life started from CO2. The Moon-forming impact supplied pure CO2 as the primordial biogenic substrate. Transition metals readily convert H2 and CO2 into formate, acetate and pyruvate, doing the job of 127 enzymes in modern cells, suggesting a facile onset of metabolic origins.

The Moon-forming impact vaporized part of Earth’s mantle, and turned the rest into a magma ocean, from which carbon dioxide degassed into the atmosphere, where it stayed until water rained out to form the oceans. The rain dissolved CO2 and made it available to react with transition metal catalysts in the Earth’s crust so as to ultimately generate the organic compounds that form the backbone of microbial metabolism.

The Moon-forming impact was key in building a planet with the capacity to generate life in that it converted carbon on Earth into a homogeneous and accessible substrate for organic synthesis.

Today all ecosystems, without exception, depend upon primary producers, organisms that fix CO2. According to theories of autotrophic origin, it has always been that way, because autotrophic theories posit that the first forms of life generated all the molecules needed to build a cell from CO2, forging a direct line of continuity between Earth’s initial CO2-rich atmosphere and the first microorganisms.

By modern accounts these were chemolithoautotrophic archaea and bacteria that initially colonized the crust and still inhabit that environment today.

Natalia Mrnjavac, Dr. Jessica L. E. Wimmer, Max Brabender, Loraine Schwander, Prof. Dr. William F. Martin
The Moon-Forming Impact and the Autotrophic Origin of Life, Chemistry Europe


Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻