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"Got Mica?" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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According to a new "soup and sandwich" hypothesis, Earth's first life may have formed inside a primordial soup that was sandwiched between the many layers of the mineral mica.

Credit: NSF/Clear Channel Communications/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

For the love of mica . . .

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

The next time someone says, "What rock did you crawl out from under?", tell them it was maybe more like a mineral. You see, the origin of life, according to a new theory from the National Science Foundation's Helen Hansma, could have actually taken place sandwiched between sheets of mica.

(SOUND: restaurant) Yeah, I'll have a mica sandwich and a primordial soup -- hold the slaw. I don't know why they always use food metaphors, but Hansa's theory is called the "soup and sandwich" mica hypothesis. In this case, the soup is also actually in the sandwich, between layers of mica that provide a near-perfect setting to generate and sustain life. Here's why:

Hansma notes that first, the environment is similar to that of a cell -- negatively-charged, and potassium-rich.

Second, evolutionary isolation? We're between sheets of mica -- you don't get much more isolated.

Thirdly, the movement, expansion and contraction of the mica help to keep things rockin', rearranging molecules from the primordial soup and allowing them to bond.

All necessary factors for the origin of life in a mica sandwich. Hey, at least we didn't spring from a six-foot hoagie.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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