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School of Earth and Climate Sciences

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UMaine researchers receive grant to study the possible connection between boron and early life

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School of Earth an Climate Sciences members Ed Grew and Marty Yates are part of a collaborative team that recently was awarded funding from the Carnegie Institute of Washington for a project entitled Isua Tourmaline: A window to Boron Concentrations in the Eoarchean?

Grew is leading the project, which follows up on recent work in collaboration with Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institute of Washington.

A more complete description of the work is at; a summary of the project follows:
Scientists have proposed that boron played an essential role in the stabilization of prebiotic organic compounds critical to the formation of life on the early Earth 4 billion years ago. Their proposal assumes that boron concentrations in the Earth’s oceans and crust 4 billion years ago were comparable to concentrations today, but this assumption remains to be demonstrated. The objective of the research, which is funded by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, is to estimate what boron concentrations might have been so early in Earth history. Collaborators Edward Grew (University of Maine), Martin Yates (University of Maine), Robert Dymek (Washington University in Saint Louis), Simon Harley (University of Edinburgh, Scotland) and Robert Hazen (Carnegie Institution of Washington) will analyze tourmaline from the Isua complex (West Greenland), the oldest tourmaline reported (3.7-3.8 billion years) for the two isotopes of boron, which would give the boron isotope composition of the ocean 3.7-3.8 billion years ago, not long after the critical period in the origin of life. Using a model developed by French geochemists relating sea-water boron isotope composition to the proportion of boron extracted from Earth’s mantle into the oceans and crust, we will try to determine whether concentrations of boron present on the early Earth were sufficient to play a critical role in the origin of life.

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Contact Information

School of Earth and Climate Sciences
5790 Bryand Global Sciences Center
Orono, ME 04469-5790
Phone: (207) 581-2152 | Fax: (207) 581-2202E-mail:
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469