Pyrite and Organic Compounds Coexisting in Intrusive Mafic Xenoliths (Hyblean Plateau, Sicily): Implications for Subsurface Abiogenesis

  • Vittorio ScribanoEmail author
  • Sergei K. Simakov
  • Claudio Finocchiaro
  • Alessandra Correale
  • Salvatore Scirè
Geochemistry, Prebiotic Chemistry


Pyrite and organic matter closely coexist in some hydrothermally-altered gabbroic xenoliths from the Hyblean Plateau, Sicily. The representative sample consists of plagioclase, Fe-oxides, clinopyroxene, pyrite and minor amounts of many other minerals. Plagioclase displays incipient albitization, clinopyroxene is deeply corroded. Pyrite grains are widely replaced by spongy-textured magnetite, which locally hosts Ca-(and Fe-)sulfate micrograins and blebs of condensed organic matter. Whole-rock trace element distribution evidences that incompatible elements, particularly the fluid-mobile Ba, U and Pb, are significantly enriched with respect to N-MORB values. The mineralogical and geochemical characteristics of the sample, and its U-Pb zircon age of 216.9 ± 6.7 MA, conform to the xenolith-based viewpoint that the unexposed Hyblean basement is a relict of the Ionian Tethys lithospheric domain, mostly consisting of abyssal-type serpentinized peridotites with small gabbroic intrusions. Circulating hydrothermal fluids there favored the formation of hydrocarbons trough Fischer-Tropsch-type organic synthesis, giving also rise to sulfidization episodes. Subsequent variations in temperature and redox conditions of the system induced partial de-sulfidization, Fe-oxides precipitation and sulfate-forming reactions, also promoting poly-condensation and aromatization of the already-formed hydrocarbons. Here we show organic matter adhering to a crystal face of a microscopic pyrite grain. Pyrite surfaces, as abiotic analogues of enzymes, can adsorb and concentrate organic molecules, also acting as catalysts for a broad range of proto-biochemical reactions. The present data therefore may support established abiogenesis models suggesting that pyrite surfaces carried out primitive metabolic cycles in suitable environments of the early Earth, such as endolithic recesses in mafic rocks permeated by hydrothermal fluids.


Sicily Xenoliths Hydrothermal system Pyrite FTT synthesis Abiogenesis 



We would like to thank Massimo Tiepolo for having provided in-situ zircon U-Pb dating. Paolo Mazzoleni and Germana Barone kindly let us to use the micro-Raman equipment at Catania University.

Research Funding

Università di Catania, Piano per la ricerca 2016–2018, II annualità (to VS).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological, Geological and Envirnonmental SciencesUniversity of CataniaCataniaItaly
  2. 2.LLC “ADAMANT” Skolkovo ParticipantSt.PetersburgRussian Federation
  3. 3.National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV)PalermoItaly
  4. 4.Department of Chemical SciencesUniversity of CataniaCataniaItaly

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