From The Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich [Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München] (DE) and The MPG Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics(DE): “Gas bubbles in rock pores were a nursery for life on early Earth” 

From The Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich [Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München] (DE)



The MPG Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics(DE)

Fluorescence microscopy image of protocells in contact with a gas bubble. Coacervate assemblies are a valid model to mimic the first protocells that arose on Early Earth and to study how the first steps of life could have evolved. Credit: Alan Ianeselli/LMU.

Where and how did life begin on Early Earth more than 3.5 billion years ago from non-living chemicals? A key necessity for the first cells on Earth is the ability to make compartments and evolve to facilitate the first chemical reactions. Membraneless coacervate microdroplets are excellent candidates to describe protocells, with the ability to partition, concentrate molecules and support biochemical reactions. Scientists have not yet shown how those microdroplets could have evolved to start life on earth. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden and at the Center for NanoScience (CeNS) at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich now demonstrate for the first time, that the growth and division of membraneless microdroplets is possible in an environment which is similar to gas bubbles within a heated rock pore on Early Earth. Suggesting that life may have had its origin there.

The team around Dora Tang, a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, showed in 2018 that simple RNA is active within membraneless microdroplets, enabling a suitable chemical environment for the beginning of life. Those experiments were conducted in a simple aqueous environment, where competing forces were balanced. Cells, however, need an environment where they can continuously divide and evolve.

To find a more suitable scenario for the origin of life experiments, Dora teamed up with Dieter Braun, professor for Systems Biophysics at the LMU in Munich. His group developed conditions with a non-balanced environment that allow multiple reactions in a single setting and where cells could evolve. Those cells though are not like the cells we know today, but more like precursors to today’s cells, also called protocells, made of coacervates with no membrane.

Water containing pores with gas bubble

The environment, created by the Braun lab is a likely scenario on Early Earth, where porous rocks in water in proximity of volcanic activities were partially heated. For their experiments, Dora and Dieter used water-containing pores with a gas bubble and a thermal gradient (a hot and a cold pole) in order to see if the protocells would divide and evolve. Alan Ianeselli, first author of the study and PhD student in the lab of Dieter Braun, explains that they “knew that the interface of the gas and the water attracted molecules. Protocells localize and accumulate there, and assemble into larger ones. This is why we chose this particular setting.”

The researchers indeed observed that molecules and protocells went to the gas-water interface to form larger protocells out of sugar, amino acids and RNA. Alan continues that they “also observed that the protocells were able to divide and fragment. These results represent a possible mechanism for the growth and division of membrane-free protocells on the Early Earth.” In addition to division and evolution, the researchers found that as a consequence of the thermal gradient, several types of protocells with different chemical composition, size and physical properties had formed. Therefore, the thermal gradient in this environment could have driven an evolutionary selection pressure on membraneless protocells.

Dora Tang and Dieter Braun, who supervised the study, summarize: “This work shows for the first time that the gas bubble within a heated rock pore is a convincing scenario for the evolution of membrane-free coacervate microdroplets on Early Earth. Future studies could focus on more possible habitats and explore further conditions for life to emerge.”

The research was published in Nature Chemistry.

See the full article here.


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The MPG Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics(DE)

The MPG Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics(DE) is a biology research institute located in Dresden, Germany. It was founded in 1998 and was fully operational in 2001. More than twenty research groups work in molecular biology, cell biology, developmental biology, biophysics, and systems biology supported by various facilities.


The fundamental scientific questions of the MPI-CBG are: How do cells form tissues? and How do tissues form organisms?[1] The research in the institute encompasses many topics from molecular, cellular, and developmental biology as well as from biophysics.[2] An incomplete list of individual topics follows: molecular motors, neural development, cell division, lipid rafts, endocytosis, embryogenesis, regeneration.

The MPI-CBG is located next to research centers of the The Technical University of Dresden [Technische Universität Dresden](DE), including the Biotechnology Center of the TUD, the Center for Regenerative Therapies (CRTD) at TUD, the B CUBE – Center for Molecular Bioengineering. In proximity of the MPI-CBG is also the University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus Dresden, the Medical Theoretical Centre (MTZ) and the BioInnovationsZentrum (BIOZ). The MPI-CBG has collaborations with its neighbouring research institutes and with other centres in the city like The MPG Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems (DE). Together with the MPI-PKS and the TUD, the MPI-CBG founded the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD).[6] This center develops theoretical and computational approaches to biological systems across different scales, from molecules to cells and from cells to tissues. The MPI-CBG is also part of DRESDEN-concept,[7] a research alliance of the TUD together with the four major research institutions – Max Planck, The Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres [Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft Deutscher Forschungszentren](DE), The Fraunhofer Society [Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e. V.](DE) , and The Leibniz Association [Leibniz-Gemeinschaft or Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz](DE) – and the research-active museums in Dresden. It also collaborates with institutions abroad. In addition, it operates an international PhD program together with the aforementioned neighbours.

Welcome to The Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich [Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München] (DE) – the University in the heart of Munich. LMU is recognized as one of Europe’s premier academic and research institutions. Since our founding in 1472, LMU has attracted inspired scholars and talented students from all over the world, keeping the University at the nexus of ideas that challenge and change our complex world.

The Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich [Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München] (DE) is a public research university located in Munich, Germany.

The University of Munich is Germany’s sixth-oldest university in continuous operation. Originally established in Ingolstadt in 1472 by Duke Ludwig IX of Bavaria-Landshut, the university was moved in 1800 to Landshut by King Maximilian I of Bavaria when Ingolstadt was threatened by the French, before being relocated to its present-day location in Munich in 1826 by King Ludwig I of Bavaria. In 1802, the university was officially named Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität by King Maximilian I of Bavaria in his as well as the university’s original founder’s honour.

The University of Munich is associated with 43 Nobel laureates (as of October 2020). Among these were Wilhelm Röntgen, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Otto Hahn and Thomas Mann. Pope Benedict XVI was also a student and professor at the university. Among its notable alumni, faculty and researchers are inter alia Rudolf Peierls, Josef Mengele, Richard Strauss, Walter Benjamin, Joseph Campbell, Muhammad Iqbal, Marie Stopes, Wolfgang Pauli, Bertolt Brecht, Max Horkheimer, Karl Loewenstein, Carl Schmitt, Gustav Radbruch, Ernst Cassirer, Ernst Bloch, Konrad Adenauer. The LMU has recently been conferred the title of “University of Excellence” under the German Universities Excellence Initiative.

LMU is currently the second-largest university in Germany in terms of student population; in the winter semester of 2018/2019, the university had a total of 51,606 matriculated students. Of these, 9,424 were freshmen while international students totalled 8,875 or approximately 17% of the student population. As for operating budget, the university records in 2018 a total of 734,9 million euros in funding without the university hospital; with the university hospital, the university has a total funding amounting to approximately 1.94 billion euros.


LMU’s Institute of Systematic Botany is located at Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg
Faculty of chemistry buildings at the Martinsried campus of LMU Munich

The university consists of 18 faculties which oversee various departments and institutes. The official numbering of the faculties and the missing numbers 06 and 14 are the result of breakups and mergers of faculties in the past. The Faculty of Forestry Operations with number 06 has been integrated into the Technical University of Munich [Technische Universität München] (DE) in 1999 and faculty number 14 has been merged with faculty number 13.

01 Faculty of Catholic Theology
02 Faculty of Protestant Theology
03 Faculty of Law
04 Faculty of Business Administration
05 Faculty of Economics
07 Faculty of Medicine
08 Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
09 Faculty for History and the Arts
10 Faculty of Philosophy, Philosophy of Science and Study of Religion
11 Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences
12 Faculty for the Study of Culture
13 Faculty for Languages and Literatures
15 Faculty of Social Sciences
16 Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics
17 Faculty of Physics
18 Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy
19 Faculty of Biology
20 Faculty of Geosciences and Environmental Sciences

Research centres

In addition to its 18 faculties, the University of Munich also maintains numerous research centres involved in numerous cross-faculty and transdisciplinary projects to complement its various academic programmes. Some of these research centres were a result of cooperation between the university and renowned external partners from academia and industry; the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, for example, was established through a joint initiative between LMU Munich and the Deutsches Museum, while the Parmenides Center for the Study of Thinking resulted from the collaboration between the Parmenides Foundation and LMU Munich’s Human Science Center.

Some of the research centres which have been established include:

Center for Integrated Protein Science Munich (CIPSM)
Graduate School of Systemic Neurosciences (GSN)
Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health
Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM)
Parmenides Center for the Study of Thinking
Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society