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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

last modified Aug 04, 2016 12:56 PM
Dr Silvana Cardoso
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A chemical-garden membrane in the laboratory. Click on the image for a larger version.

A recent study by members of this Department, in collaboration with colleagues in Spain and the USA, could help unravel the role of fluid dynamics on the emergence of life.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is Wavy membranes and the growth rate of a planar chemical garden: Enhanced diffusion and bioenergetics, by Yang Ding, Bruno Batista, Oliver Steinbock, Julyan H.E. Cartwright, Silvana S.S. Cardoso.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1607828113

In hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, precipitation membranes grow at the boundary between seawater and mineral-rich liquid flowing out of the vent. Such membranes are increasingly viewed as having played a vital role in the emergence of life on Earth, but their bioenergetics is unclear. The authors present a laboratory and theoretical study that quantifies ionic transport across an analog membrane. They demonstrate that flow over a growing, wavy-membrane topography enhances diffusive transport across its surface. This enhanced diffusion helps to explain the "leakiness" present in early protocells from chemical gardens. More generally, the work is of interest in fluid-flow control via surface topography, and the opposite: predesigned flow perturbations to shape membrane formation, in biology, chemistry, and physics.

Yang Ding, the first author in the paper, is a first-year PhD student in this Department. Dr Bruno Batista and Prof. Oliver Steinbock work at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Florida State University, USA. Prof. Julyan Cartwright works at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas–Universidad de Granada, Spain. Dr Cardoso, the senior author, is a Reader in Fluid Mechanics and the Environment in this Department.


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