"Whatever molecules were between the mica sheets would be continually getting stretched and squished, and I think that would be an energy source for making bonds," Hansma said.
More food for thought: Mica sheets are held together by potassium ions. Potassium, Hansma noted, is important for healthy cells.
"Our cells put a lot of energy into keeping potassium high inside, but I don't think any origin-of-life theory has ever worried about how that got there," she said.
A previously proposed idea holds that the pre-biotic soup was spread over the surface of clays.
As the clay crystals grew, some changed structure and could bind and concentrate different organic compounds, explained John Baross, a biological oceanographer at the University of Washington in Seattle.
He added that many of these clays include layered silicates such as mica.
But according to Hansma, mica sheets are much larger than clay particles, so the spaces between sheets could shelter developing molecules for far longer.
"I'm curious whether mica will be able to speed up reactions like some clays do," she said.
Baross, who is an expert on origin of life theories, said: "As is usually the case, it is time for some experiments."
Free Email News Updates
Sign up for our Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top stories and pictures (see sample).
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES