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Geophysical Monograph Series

 

Keywords

  • Deep-sea ecology—Congresses
  • Mid-ocean ridges—Congresses

Article

GEOPHYSICAL MONOGRAPH SERIES, VOL. 144, PP. 191-198, 2004

Activation of diatomic and triatomic molecules for the synthesis of organic compounds: Metal catalysis at the subseafloor biosphere

George W. Luther III

College of Marine Studies, University of Delaware Lewes, Delaware


Chemical synthesis of organic molecules from simple diatomic and triatomic molecules is enhanced by transition metal catalysis. The actual forms of the catalysts that were available in prebiotic times to initiate the first formation of simple organic compounds are not known. However, the petroleum industry has made an enormous research effort to make organic materials from small molecules using various transition metal compounds as catalysts, and we can make estimates regarding the functional forms of catalysts. Recent work has speculated on the formation of small organic molecules that are the building blocks for life at hydrothermal vents and the subsurface seafloor, but the kinetics and proposed reaction intermediates as catalysts in these studies are not obvious. Metals, which are the center of these catalysts and which are present in the subseafloor biosphere, are typically in low oxidation states (e.g.; 0, +1) and have a rich chemistry that permits ease of ligand substitution and electron transfer reactions as well as insertion reactions, which are necessary chemical pathways for organic and biochemical synthesis. In addition, the metals overcome some of the poor electron acceptor properties of small molecules (e.g., N2) via these pathways. This paper describes in detail possible kinetic pathways and gives examples of organic chemical syntheses/transformations that are used in abiotic and biotic processes. These reactions are kinetically controlled and the catalysts are regenerated during synthesis.

Citation: Luther, G. W., III (2004), Activation of diatomic and triatomic molecules for the synthesis of organic compounds: Metal catalysis at the subseafloor biosphere, in The Subseafloor Biosphere at Mid-Ocean Ridges, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 144, edited by W. S. Wilcock et al., pp. 191–198, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/144GM12.

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