the mystery of Phosphorous

Discussions on topics related to biochemistry and molecular biology, functional genomics, etc.

the mystery of Phosphorous

Postby hyksos on April 29th, 2018, 2:44 pm 

Phosphate is essential to all modern life forms. From providing the backbone in DNA, to driving the cell’s energy currency in the form of the nucleotide adenosine triphosphate (ATP), phosphate is a key biological building block. The chemical is so heavily involved in metabolism, the chemical reactions of life, that it is difficult to imagine life existing without it.

Yet, scientists believe that there was little phosphate readily available in the prebiotic soup in which life began. It is a chicken-and-egg conundrum. The earth’s phosphate is largely locked up in stable minerals, and life forms such as bacteria must use complex enzymes to extract it in a useful form. But how could these enzymes evolve, without using phosphate?

The lack of "bio-available" phosphorous is an un-solved problem for several theories of abiogenesis. For astrobiologists, the problem just recently became more perplexing.

Alien hunters just got some seriously bad news

http://bgr.com/2018/04/05/phosphorus-in-space-life-survey-aliens/amp/
User avatar
hyksos
Active Member
 
Posts: 1382
Joined: 28 Nov 2014


Re: the mystery of Phosphorous

Postby Event Horizon on April 29th, 2018, 3:33 pm 

Apparently, a lot of Phosphorus arrived via meteorite - about 10% according to this article:

https://www.livescience.com/22641-cosmi ... ology.html

It seems that early life derived much of its phosphate from early plants, dead plant matter and from dissolved phosphates in aqueous run-off.

The harsh conditions early in Earths' history may have been much more acidic too, dissolving it more readily from the rocks than we see now. Volcanism, of which there was a lot, may help bring it to the surface from deep underground.

And yeah, it's running out. Anyone fancy a bit of asteroid mining?
User avatar
Event Horizon
Member
 
Posts: 355
Joined: 05 Mar 2018
Location: England somewhere.


Re: the mystery of Phosphorous

Postby DragonFly on April 29th, 2018, 6:16 pm 

Here's where it came from:

THE GOLDEN STREAM

In 1865, Hennig Brand thought that gold
Could be distilled from human urine, old,
Perhaps noting a similarity in color,
So, he kept fifty buckets in his cellar.

By some method, he converted urine
Into a noxious paste of some kind,
Then into some translucent waxy substance,
But so far there was no gold, and none hence.

However, after a time the substance began to glow,
And when exposed to the air burst as an inferno.
The substance soon became known as phosphorus,
But was too costly to make its business prosperous…

For an ounce of the flaming stuff sold
For way more than the price of gold!
User avatar
DragonFly
Resident Member
 
Posts: 2363
Joined: 04 Aug 2012
Faradave liked this post


Re: the mystery of Phosphorous

Postby Event Horizon on April 29th, 2018, 7:33 pm 

There is more than a particle of truth in the poem above. Phosphorus was discovered by reducing barrels of urine collected from pubs. Eventually the phosphorus was concentrated enough that it started to become phosphorescent. I believe the quest was to distil the essential essence of life no less.
It must have seemed like a powerful kind of alchemy at the time.
User avatar
Event Horizon
Member
 
Posts: 355
Joined: 05 Mar 2018
Location: England somewhere.


Re: the mystery of Phosphorous

Postby doogles on May 1st, 2018, 6:08 pm 

Hyksos -- "Yet, scientists believe that there was little phosphate readily available in the prebiotic soup in which life began. It is a chicken-and-egg conundrum. The earth’s phosphate is largely locked up in stable minerals, and life forms such as bacteria must use complex enzymes to extract it in a useful form. But how could these enzymes evolve, without using phosphate?"

I found this article while streaming Google Scholar:

PHOSPHORUS IN EARLY LIFE FORMS --https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-642-61736-2_6
Phosphate Minerals pp 215-241 | Cite as
Phosphate Minerals in Terrestrial Igneous and Metamorphic Rocks• William P. Nash

"Phosphorus is a ubiquitous although minor component of most igneous and metamorphic rocks. Under the normal oxidative conditions of the Earth’s crust and upper mantle, phosphorus is present as phosphates, and Koritnig (1978) lists over 200 phosphate minerals. Nonetheless, in common igneous and metamorphic rocks phosphate mineral diversity is extremely limited and is dominated by the occurrence of apatite. This chapter is devoted to phosphates in terrestrial igneous and metamorphic rocks in the strictest sense. Metasomatic, hydrothermal, ore-forming and pegmatite associations are not treated; the latter has been described in particular detail by Moore (1973). Accordingly, considerable attention is paid to apatite; other phosphates discussed include monazite, xenotime and whitlockite. Also omitted is any discussion of crystallography which is provided by Moore (this Vol.)."

I imagine that with at least 200 phosphorus compounds identified, with inorganic redox reactions being possible, and with variations in environmental conditions over millions of years, that the odds of usable P compounds being present and available to react with C, N, H, S and O would be high -- particularly around volcanic vents. Just a thought.

(Apropos of another current tread, I think it was a thought. But then again ....??)
User avatar
doogles
Member
 
Posts: 999
Joined: 11 Apr 2009
Location: BRISBANE


Re: the mystery of Phosphorous

Postby Event Horizon on May 2nd, 2018, 6:07 am 

No, I think you thunk it..!

The overwhelming majority of Phosphorus in common usage appears to originate in a mine or mines in Morocco. Clearly this is not sustainable, but as the price goes up due to scarcity other extraction methods might come online that are too expensive right now.

Its main use in farming is to harden off young plants, as they grow on Nitrates become the main nutrient supplied.
User avatar
Event Horizon
Member
 
Posts: 355
Joined: 05 Mar 2018
Location: England somewhere.


Re: the mystery of Phosphorous

Postby hyksos on May 2nd, 2018, 1:59 pm 

The precambrian earth was a stage of life significantly longer than the post-cambrian world we know today. The difference between 500 million versus, say, 3 billion years. Some have suggested that precambrian bacteria were using a metabolism that was utterly alien to the photosynthetic/heterotrophic cycles universally present in today's organisms. In regards to "Then how could they have evolved the processes in the absence of phosphorous already being there?" is addressed -- those life forms were not using phosphorous.
User avatar
hyksos
Active Member
 
Posts: 1382
Joined: 28 Nov 2014


Re: the mystery of Phosphorous

Postby Event Horizon on May 2nd, 2018, 2:51 pm 

Such life-forms have been found living around deep ocean vents that spew minerals and all matter of stuff in solution known as black smokers. They derive none of their energy from the sun. These bacteria form a food source for other specialist animals. An ecosystem independent of all other life. It just goes to show.

I suspect they had a range of metabolic pathways that might have undergone natural selection and bacteria are particularly efficient at swapping notes. They're great survivors, and just as well. Otherwise we wouldn't have any mitochondrions to turn ADP to ATP giving us the power we run on. I hope I got that the right way round.
User avatar
Event Horizon
Member
 
Posts: 355
Joined: 05 Mar 2018
Location: England somewhere.



Return to Biochemistry

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests