(NBC News) A new theory proposes the primordial life-forms that gave rise to all life on Earth left deep-sea vents because of their “invention” of a tiny pump. These primitive cellular pumps would have powered life-giving chemical reactions.

The idea, detailed Dec. 20 in the journal Cell, could help explain two mysteries of life’s early origin: How did the earliest proto-cells power chemical reactions to make the organic building blocks of life; and how did they leave hydrothermal vents to colonize early Earth’s oceans?

Authors of the new theory argue the environmental conditions in porous hydrothermal vents — where heated, mineral-laden seawater spews from cracks in the ocean crust — created a gradient in positively charged protons that served as a “battery” to fuel the creation of organic molecules and proto-cells.

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