DIAS public lecture
Cells need a continuous flow of energy and matter to grow. All life on Earth uses the unanticipated mechanism of electrochemical charges across membranes to generate ATP and fix CO2. The protein machinery required to generate and harness this charge is extremely sophisticated, raising the question how such a universally conserved process arose in early cells. I will show that equivalent electrochemical gradients are found across inorganic pores in alkaline hydrothermal vents, and that ion flux may have driven the difficult reaction between hydrogen and carbon dioxide to form organic matter and ultimately the first cells.