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The Possible Emergence of Life and Differentiation of a Shallow Biosphere on Irradiated Icy Worlds: The Example of Europa.

ABSTRACT: Irradiated ice-covered ocean worlds with rocky mafic mantles may provide the conditions needed to drive the emergence and maintenance of life. Alkaline hydrothermal springs-relieving the geophysical, thermal, and chemical disequilibria between oceans and tidally stressed crusts-could generate inorganic barriers to the otherwise uncontrolled and kinetically disfavored oxidation of hydrothermal hydrogen and methane. Ionic gradients imposed across these inorganic barriers, comprising iron oxyhydroxides and sulfides, could drive the hydrogenation of carbon dioxide and the oxidation of methane through thermodynamically favorable metabolic pathways leading to early life-forms. In such chemostatic environments, fuels may eventually outweigh oxidants. Ice-covered oceans are primarily heated from below, creating convection that could transport putative microbial cells and cellular cooperatives upward to congregate beneath an ice shell, potentially giving rise to a highly focused shallow biosphere. It is here where electron acceptors, ultimately derived from the irradiated surface, could be delivered to such life-forms through exchange with the icy surface. Such zones would act as "electron disposal units" for the biosphere, and occupants might be transferred toward the surface by buoyant diapirs and even entrained into plumes. Key Words: Biofilms-Europa-Extraterrestrial life-Hydrothermal systems. Astrobiology 17, 1265-1273.


PROVIDER: S-EPMC5729856 | BioStudies | 2017-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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