Basic scenario: An abundance of a simple Lipid is introduced to a large body of liquid (water for simplicity), there’s some motion; wind or gravity or whatever, and the Lipids bump into one another. These Lipids have charge as you’d imagine and are hydrophilic at one end and hydrophobic at another and so they quickly set about forming a simple membrane. That’s one of the basic jigsaw pieces in the puzzle of understanding cells (or at least as I interpret it and I hope I’m right, lol).

The question: Can this happen in a mist/fog/cloud/vapour (insert appropriate word)? Does diffusion within the cloud behave the same as a large body? Or am I way off?

The idea behind the question is that environmental factors mean that surface liquid is cooked off at the hottest times and the only hope of anything pooling as liquid comes either at night or in the shadow of great mountains when the temperature may be a little lower.

  • $\begingroup$ You would be correct regarding our understanding of eucaryote cells. Are you asking if liposomes (even simple life) can form within a fog - given your constraints? Or is it more to do with turbulence and thermal-equilibrium in a foggy vapor? We might need you to clarify a bit. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2019 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ My presumption was that change needed lot of time and a degree of stability. We still struggle even today to describe exactly how the oceans formed but I’m guessing that organic molecules didn’t really progress to the Cell stage until the great bodies of water were good and ready. I’m trying to imagine the environment that’s still a working progress and whether any developements can be made within that assumed environment. I guess I’m trying to work out if the slow but inevitable progress made in large bodies are completely undone by mass evaporation. I hope that makes sense. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2019 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ It’s one of the first steps in the evolutionary cycle that will go on to promote daily migration of almost all organisms with multicellular locomotion. One of the next steps includes rapid evolution and population of toxic flora within the pools which reach their most lethal at the highest temperatures meaning that anything that can move away will try. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2019 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ I see, well, we know about the action of tides in the creation of land-based animals - with regards anything speculative - we'd need you to edit your question to something very specific, to give you a specific answer. Asking a series of related questions (in threads of their own) to put the whole picture together is encouraged here. I'd advise you to break it down into manageable chunks: "What sort of chemistry would allow liposomes to continue existence with this thermal cycle", "Within these constraints of thermal cycling over time, what would allow complex life to evolve" etc.. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2019 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, looks like I have some complex stuff to consider and I have already asked one other question related to this subject this evening. Perhaps a moderator can put this question on hold or whatever it is that happens if question isn’t suitable. Sorry, I’m new to this site but I see as an incredibly productive tool already, just don’t want to trash my reputation by spamming the forum with inappropriate questions. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2019 at 21:25

2 Answers 2


Yes. This could happen.

Considering your scenario but with volatile alkanes instead of lipids. I could imagine the sun coming up and water evaporates. Mist forms. As it gets warmer, it is warm enough for pools containing alkanes to evaporate. One with a boiling points a little bit above water would be hexane; hepatane and pentane are close.

Once in gas phase, the alkane will condense on anything cool. The airborne water droplets might be relatively cool because they are evaporating. An alkane molecule that bumps into a droplet will go back into liquid phase, stuck on the surface of the water droplet. Alkanes would accumulate.

With some Google fu I found exactly this described (but in a lab environment; surface pools of volatile hydrocarbons are scarce on Earth).

Adsorption of alkane vapor at water drop surfaces

The influence of temperature on the dynamic surface tension of water in heptane vapour is studied using drop profile analysis tensiometry. The water drops are formed in air saturated by heptane and water vapours. For long life times a new phenomenon is found: a sharp decrease of surface tension from about 60 mN/m down to 30 mN/m. The time until this sharp surface tension sets in decreases with increasing temperature. This phenomenon is attributed to the formation of heptane adsorption layers with a significant thickness.

The presence of the coating of alkane would stabilize the water drop and limit evaporation. Limiting evaporation would also limit cooling and so curb the accumulation of more hydrocarbon. These floating droplets could be long lived and would be a fine place for more abiologic chemistry to happen on the road to creating life.

The lipids you describe are something more like glycerine than alkane - they have a hydrophilic section. The same principle would apply but droplets formed this way would be micelles, and more stable because of the stable interaction between lipid and water. I struggled some to think of how an alkane could form a hydrophilic section in the pre-oxygenated earth. Maybe via ozone or oxygen radicals formed by environmental photodissociation of water?

Chlorine would be a fine way to make a hydrophilic part of a hydrocarbon, if your world has any free chlorine. We know that chlorinated hydrocarbons are stable and versatile - not the way our world went (as far as I know), but good for a fiction.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you Wilik, definitely some things worth researching there. My knowledge of organic chemistry is not at a university level so all these keywords you guys highlight are very revealing and give me a lot to read about. $\endgroup$ Dec 10, 2019 at 20:20

Comments made have given me enough pointers to further research and understand my question better before posing new scenarios to scrutinise. I’ll consider this questioned answered with thanks to We Are Monica and Puppetsock Reinstate Monica.


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