Potential catalytic role of phyllosilicates in prebiotic organic synthesis
Strong reasons exist to hypothesize that phyllosilicates, that is, clay minerals, played a critical catalytic role in the organic synthesis of prebiotic and possibly early biotic compounds and structures. Phyllosilicates would be expected to be abundant at the surface of early Earth (the Hadean) by the hydrous alteration of impact-generated silicate debris.
The explorations of Earth, the Moon, and Mars permit reasonable inferences about physical conditions on prebiotic Earth. Also, currently available information allows the definition of necessary steps in prebiotic synthesis in which phyllosilicates may have participated. Consideration of these steps supports the plausibility that such minerals provided catalytic, substrate, and organizational functions for prebiotic and possibly early biotic development of organic structures, leading to formation and replication of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and, in turn, leading to a prebiotic RNA world. Ultimately, prokaryote cells may owe some of their functions to the inherent characteristics of associated phyllosilicates.