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FEATURE ARTICLE

The Origin of Life

A case is made for the descent of electrons

James Trefil, Harold J. Morowitz, Eric Smith

Figure 1. Prebiotic Soup canClick to Enlarge ImageSince the mid 1980s, the origin-of-life theory with the most momentum has been the RNA World, which proposes that life began with the appearance of a polymer (probably RNA) that could somehow replicate itself while being operated on by the forces of natural selection, leading to increased complexity and life itself. Recently this theory has been challenged by a new idea, “Metabolism First,” which claims to discover in the core of modern metabolism an ancient cycle of reactions whose activity reproduces its own constituents—an “autocatalytic cycle” that propagates itself. The authors investigate the metabolic evidence, reaction thermodynamics and chemical logic of the primordial autocatalytic cycle and conclude not only that it can explain the origin of life, but also that the appearance of life was very likely an inevitable side effect of the laws of thermodynamics.


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