On the origin of life

«The question of the origin of life is one of the fundamental problems of science.» Few would disagree with this statement by the Russian biochemist Alexander I. Oparin, pioneer in the scientific study of the transition from inanimate matter to the primitive forms of life. The naturalist and evolutionary approach to the problem of the origin of life on Earth enabled the experimental study, but it is amazingly complex, so it is impossible to tackle the issue from a single scientific discipline. Therefore, what we see is the paradigm of multidisciplinary studies, one that interests astronomers, geologists, chemists, physicists or biologists and can require observation and experimentation, as well as computational simulation and theoretical speculation. That is why, even if we do not create a comprehensive list, we should add mathematicians, computer scientists and philosophers to the army of scholars interested on the emergence of the earliest forms of life.

In this Mètode monograph we try to collect different scientific and philosophical approaches, as is common in the main international meetings on the origin of life or in the academic journals that yield the most important innovations in the field. Beyond specific details about the problem, the overall picture shows a very dynamic landscape where the frontiers of our ignorance move very quickly. The final goal is not to know exactly how life originated – an irreproducible historic event – but to outline a coherent narrative taking into account all the available information and data, verified experimentally, and explain how the transition from geochemistry to biochemistry came to occur more than 3,500 million years ago; an intellectual task that will never end.

© Mètode 2015 - 87. Online only. On the origin of life - Autumn 2015

Full Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Valencia (Spain), member of the Biological Sciences Section of the Institute for Catalan Studies, and founding partner of Darwin Bioprospecting Excellence SL (Science Park of the University of Valencia). He explains metabolism to biotechnology students and, as a member of the Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology lab, his research interests include bioprospecting, metabolic modelling, and the history of ideas about the natural origin and artificial synthesis of life.

School of Science, National Autonomous University of Mexico.