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Complex molecules such as the one pictured here came together to form coacervates
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Corel Photography

Coacervates

In the warm primordial ocean, aggregates of amino acids, proteins, and other hydrocarbons coalesced into a form called *coacervates*. Organic polymers such as amino acids will spontaneously form coacervates in the same way that beads of vinegar in oil coalesce together. The Miller-Urey experiment showed that amino acids form under conditions similar to the Earth's primordial environment.

These beads, or coacervates are perhaps the simplest of systems that, without a membrane, can be said to be bound together; that is they have a distinct inside and outside. An ocean provides an ideal substrate for their formation, for the primordial ocean was large, and water can hold the coacervates suspended, allowing them to be undisturbed, for a long period of time.

It is not known whether these coacervates were life-like or not. Recall that life must be able to feed and reproduce itself. The earliest life was probably much like coacervates, and scientists think that this earliest life probably was chemo-heterotrophic, meaning that they used a chemical process called enzymatic catalysis to process naturally produced organic compounds from the early ocean for food.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA