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Biology Articles » Evolutionary Biology » Origin of Life » Silicon May Have Been The Key To Start Of Life On Earth

Silicon May Have Been The Key To Start Of Life On Earth

A scientist at the University of Sheffield has discovered that silicon may have been key to the establishment of life on earth. Until now it has generally been thought that bacteria do not interact with silicon, but Dr Milton Wainwright and his team at the University's Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, has found that this is not the case.

In a paper, due to be published in the International Journal of Astrobiology, Dr Wainwright outlines his team's discovery that silicon stimulates bacterial growth when food is in short supply, even in the absence of oxygen.

Dr Wainwright explains, "Silicon is the second most common element on Earth, so it seemed likely that bacteria would have evolved to find a way of utilising it. When bacterial life first arose on Earth, it would have been in conditions where both food and oxygen were limited, exactly those in which silicon can become vital for bacterial growth.

"In our experiments we took two samples of soil that naturally contain bacteria and added them to solutions devoid of any bacterial foodstuffs. One of the solutions was left in this state, while to the other we added sterile, washed silicon. The solution with the silicon showed a significant increase in the amount of bacteria present, even when there was no oxygen available.

"These findings suggest that silicon was a major catalyst in the growth of the first bacterium, and therefore for the beginnings of life on Earth."

University of Sheffield. October 2003.


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