Nature Reviews Microbiology 6, 805-814 (November 2008) | doi:10.1038/nrmicro1991

Hydrothermal vents and the origin of life

William Martin1, John Baross2, Deborah Kelley2 & Michael J. Russell3  About the authors


Submarine hydrothermal vents are geochemically reactive habitats that harbour rich microbial communities. There are striking parallels between the chemistry of the H2–CO2 redox couple that is present in hydrothermal systems and the core energy metabolic reactions of some modern prokaryotic autotrophs. The biochemistry of these autotrophs might, in turn, harbour clues about the kinds of reactions that initiated the chemistry of life. Hydrothermal vents thus unite microbiology and geology to breathe new life into research into one of biology's most important questions — what is the origin of life?

Author affiliations

  1. Institut für Botanik III, Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany.
  2. School of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.
  3. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91109, USA.

Correspondence to: William Martin1 Email:

Published online 29 September 2008


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