A hypothesis on the role of pressure in the origin of life

Kenneth W. Nickerson

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12 Scopus citations


The necessity for long time spans in models on the origin of life leads to a major difficulty in that under the environmental conditions existing today biological macromolecules are inherently unstable. The present hypothesis suggests that life arose under a set of environmental conditions whereby polymerization was thermodynamically favored. In particular, increased pressure when coupled with low water activity and high temperature should stabilize polymer bond formation. Three implications of this pressure stabilization theory are presented: (1) The necessary conditions for stabilization are similar to some of the ecological niches occupied by representatives of the archaebacteria. It is suggested that the harsh and unusual habitats of the archaebacteria reflect in part prebiotic environmental conditions. (2) Biological optical activity would be generated if, for instance, l-l peptide bonds were stabilized to a greater degree than l-d peptide bonds. This type of selective stabilization would provide for the maintenance of molecular asymmetry as well as the creation of molecular asymmetry. (3) Conditions necessary for generating the requisite pressure may concurrently have provided protection from prebiotic ultraviolet radiation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)487-499
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 7 1984

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Applied Mathematics


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