About CO world


Why CO world?

This research field aims to elucidate the planetary environmental conditions necessary for life emergence. This research plan to generate breakthroughs by promoting interdisciplinary research on the planetary environment (CO world) in which organic molecules are generated from carbon monoxide CO. Astronomical observations and planetary exploration have so far discovered a series of bodies other than the Earth that are capable of life activity, and observations aimed at discovering traces of life on these bodies have already begun. However, the fundamental question of what kind of planetary environment is necessary for the birth of life remains unanswered. The fundamental question of what kind of planetary environment is necessary for the birth of life, however, remains unresolved. In this field, we aim to systematize the diversity of planetary environments caused by differences in the major carbon species (CO2/CO/CH4) according to their redox states. Among them, CO-rich environments are suitable for the synthesis of diverse organic molecules. On the other hand, it is also extremely interesting for the early metabolism of terrestrial life that only the acetyl CoA pathway, which is considered to be the oldest carbon fixation pathway, can utilize CO as a carbon source in terms of microbial metabolism. In addition, recent theoretical predictions of the presence of CO in the early Earth and Martian atmospheres, and geochemical evidence for its presence, have been found.


Working hypothesis: Precursor metabolism established in CO world


Our Approach

This project will focus on CO world research, which has been conventionally overlooked, will be accomplished through the fusion of four academic disciplines. A01 Theory Group and A02 Environment Group will elucidate how much CO exists in the atmospheres of Early Earth, Mars, and other exoplanets, and which organic molecules are produced from CO, based on theoretical models of planetary atmospheres and material cycles, and geochemical observations and experiments using isotopic molecules, etc., respectively. On the other hand, A03 Biology Group and A04 Chemistry Group will clarify what kind of ecosystems and chemical reaction systems will be established under such planetary environments. The existence of organic molecules as materials is not enough to create life. Rather, a system of reactions in which those material molecules are constantly produced must exist in the environment. By focusing on CO, this field plans to demonstrate that chemical systems that lead to life metabolism (precursor metabolic systems) can be established in the real planetary environment. Through this interdisciplinary effort, we will also provide concrete methods to identify traces of life in future astronomical observations and planetary exploration, thereby bringing about a revolution in the field.


Fields Overview


From an inert Planet to Life

What kind of planetary environment would be necessary to produce life? Chemical systems similar to the central metabolism of present-day organisms could have been driven initially by inorganic catalysts provided by the Earth, instead of enzymes. Such chemistry is called precursor metabolism; in the CO world, one would expect the precursor metabolic system to be continuously driven by the aldehydes and organic acids that are continually produced from atmospheric CO. When this reaction system generates the molecules that make it up itself, an autocatalytic cycle is established and molecules such as amino acids are produced more efficiently. If these further polymerize and become active, they can replace the inorganic catalyst and this chemical system itself can gradually become self-sustaining from the environment. In this project, we will approach the origin of life by constructing a chemical system that can be established in a planetary environment and lead to life (or is connected to life), as shown in the example above.



Working hypothesis: Precursor metabolism established in CO world


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