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Pattern formation and mineral self-organization in highly alkaline natural environments

Final Report Summary - PROMETHEUS (Pattern formation and mineral self-organization in highly alkaline natural environments)

The project ERC-PROMETHEUS has explored the frontier between life and non-life with inputs from different perspectives, mostly from science but also from humanities. We have shown that fascinating mineral self-organized structures that emulate the shape, textures, and processes characteristic of living organisms may form from natural waters very likely to have been widespread in the primitive Earth. These “biomorphs” may have formed prior or during the formation of the first living organisms and we have developed protocols to differentiate them. We have also shown that some of these purely inorganic mineral structures are able to catalyze selectively prebiotic reactions leading to the synthesis of amino acids, nucleobases, and other bricks of life. Our investigations have ended with the proposal of a geochemical scenario for the first five hundred million years of our Earth where life was able to arise from well-known mineral reactions. This scenario, rather than being singular and bizarre, was geochemically plausible for many other planets and moons in the Universe. All in all, we have demonstrated that there is not a sharp border between life and non-life, and therefore that the difference between the realm of life and the realm of crystal in terms of symmetry is much blurrier than what has been considered in the world of science but also in the world of arts and thought. In addition, our fundamental studies in mineral self-assembly have opened a door to the synthesis of advanced materials through self-assembly. A description of the project and its achievements can be found in the website