Apr 13, 2013

Emergence of life from multicomponent mixtures of chemicals: the case for experiments with cycling physicochemical gradients

Jan Spitzer


The emergence of life from planetary multicomponent mixtures of chemicals is arguably the most complicated and least understood natural phenomenon. The fact that living cells are non-equilibrium systems suggests that life can emerge only from non-equilibrium chemical systems. From an astrobiological standpoint, non-equilibrium chemical systems arise naturally when solar irradiation strikes rotating surfaces of habitable planets: the resulting cycling physicochemical gradients persistently drive planetary chemistries toward "embryonic" living systems and an eventual emergence of life. To better understand the factors that lead to the emergence of life, I argue for cycling non-equilibrium experiments with multicomponent chemical systems designed to represent the evolving chemistry of Hadean Earth ("prebiotic soups"). Specifically, I suggest experimentation with chemical engineering simulators of Hadean Earth to observe and analyze (i) the appearances and phase separations of surface active and polymeric materials as precursors of the first "cell envelopes" (membranes) and (ii) the accumulations, commingling, and co-reactivity of chemicals from atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial locations.

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Mentioned in this Paper

Tissue Membrane
Extraterrestrial Life
Evolution, Chemical
Origin of Life
Biological Evolution

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