Earth’s missing chemistry.

At the precise moment I write this, there is information about 108,230,950 organic and inorganic chemical substances from the World's disclosed chemistry. So it was with a sense of curiosity that I came across this article in the American Mineralogist[cite]/10.2138/am-2015-5417[/cite] entitled "Earth’s “missing” minerals" (the first in a series of articles apparently planned on the topic of the missing ones). The abstract is particularly interesting and whilst I encourage you to go read the article itself, I will quote some eye-catching observations from just this abstract:

  1. Mineralogists can apparently accurately estimate a mineralogical diversity of (just) 6394 minerals; compare this with the number of 108,230,950 recorded for organic and inorganic molecules.
  2. Of which however > 1563 have yet to be described (~25%). 
  3. The elements Al, B, C, Cr, Cu, Mg, Na, Ni, P, S, Si, Ta, Te, U, and V are geochemically diverse.
  4. Of this subset, Al, B, C, Cr, P, Si, and Ta, again ~25% remain to be discovered.
  5. Almost 35% of the predicted minerals containing Na are undiscovered, probably because they are white, poorly crystallised and water-soluble!
  6. But fewer then 20% of the minerals of Cu, Mg, Ni, S, Te, U, and V remain to be discovered, attributed to their economic value and often bright colours!
  7. At 9.9%, Te has the smallest predicted percentage of missing minerals of the elements studied.
  8. The disparities in percentages of undiscovered minerals is attributed in part to sociological factors in the search, discovery, and description of mineral species.

Of course comparison with the whole of molecular chemistry is difficult; minerals are natural species, mostly formed I presume without the help of living organisms. Which makes me wonder what proportion of the 108,230,950 organic and inorganic chemical substances noted above occur naturally and have been formed without the help of living organisms. The latter of course are called "natural products", and there must be many millions of those.

Postscript. If you want to search for the crystal structures of minerals, this site is useful:


Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply