Evolution: Finally, the very start of things

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The Independent Online
SCIENTISTS HAVE discovered a site on the ocean floor that is identical to the hot, watery cauldron where life on Earth originated more than 4 billion years ago.

A team of oceanographers from Britain and France has found the first "black smoker" - a hydrothermal vent that spews out a chemical-rich, sooty soup - which is rich in the vital ingredients that were the spark of life.

Other black smokers, which form tall chimney stacks of mineral deposits on the sea-bed, have relatively sparse amounts of hydrogen, which scientists believe was critical for life to evolve 4 billion years ago when the Earth lacked a source of oxygen.

However, a black smoker with abundant amounts of hydrogen has been discovered by a French scientist working on co-ordinates provided by a British oceanographic expedition, said Joe Cann, professor of Earth sciences at Leeds University. He added: "There is hydrogen in all black smokers, but in this smoker there is 15 times more hydrogen and that is extraordinary."