Chemical origin of life

The chemical origin of life refers to the conditions that might have existed and therefore promoted the first replicating life forms. It considers the physical and chemical reactions that could have led to early replicator molecules.

Latest Research and Reviews

  • Research
    | Open Access

    ATP acts as a co-substrate in enzyme catalysed reactions, but can also specifically bind metal ions. Here, the authors show that ATP interacts with copper ions and forms a Cu(II)-ATP complex that efficiently catalyses Diels-Alder reactions, and determine ATP residues that are essential for this activity.

    • Changhao Wang
    • , Qianqian Qi
    • , Wenying Li
    • , Jingshuang Dang
    • , Min Hao
    • , Shuting Lv
    • , Xingchen Dong
    • , Youkun Gu
    • , Peizhe Wu
    • , Wenyue Zhang
    • , Yashao Chen
    •  & Jörg S. Hartig
  • Research
    | Open Access

    The feasibility of molecular assemblers as a device to control chemical reactions by positioning molecules with atomic precision is a matter of debate in the literature. Here the authors describe of a rudimentary synthetic molecular assembler, supramolecular aggregate of bifunctional surfactants produced by the reaction of two phase-separated reactants that produces polymers.

    • Anthonius H. J. Engwerda
    •  & Stephen P. Fletcher
  • Research
    | Open Access

    Formation of peptide bonds in cold gas-phase environments might represent a prebiotic synthesis route of polypeptides. Here, the authors show the formation of up to tetra-peptide species in the collision of He2+ ions, with kinetic energies typical for solar wind ions, with cold β-alanine clusters.

    • Patrick Rousseau
    • , Dariusz G. Piekarski
    • , Michael Capron
    • , Alicja Domaracka
    • , Lamri Adoui
    • , Fernando Martín
    • , Manuel Alcamí
    • , Sergio Díaz-Tendero
    •  & Bernd A. Huber
  • Research
    | Open Access

    Structurally divergent reactions on racemic mixtures, which produce distinct chemical species from an enantiomeric mixture, are extremely rare in the literature. Here, the authors are able to use a dynamic combinatorial approach to yield structurally divergent, non-isomeric [2]catenanes from an enantiomeric mixture.

    • Tiberiu-M. Gianga
    •  & G. Dan Pantoș
  • Reviews |

    Self-replicating systems play a central role in the emergence of life. This Review describes the features that self-replicating systems need to acquire to transition from chemistry to biology and surveys the progress made in theoretical and experimental approaches.

    • Paul Adamski
    • , Marcel Eleveld
    • , Ankush Sood
    • , Ádám Kun
    • , András Szilágyi
    • , Tamás Czárán
    • , Eörs Szathmáry
    •  & Sijbren Otto
  • Research |

    In the development of chemical complexity—and the transition into biology—developing catalytic functionality is essential. Here the authors report the emergence of catalytic activity for two separate reactions (including one demonstrating a positive feedback on replication) in a self-replicating system.

    • Jim Ottelé
    • , Andreas S. Hussain
    • , Clemens Mayer
    •  & Sijbren Otto
    Nature Catalysis 3, 547-553

News and Comment

  • News and Views |

    It’s not known how life’s essential properties of replication, metabolism and compartmentalization were first integrated. Two recent articles now shed light on how metabolic characteristics may be incorporated into replicating systems, harnessing an external energy source to increase their rate of replication and acquiring catalytic activity.

    • Pablo Solís-Muñana
    •  & Jack L. Y. Chen
    Nature Chemistry 12, 585-587
  • Research Highlights |

    Membranes formed from amphiphiles have been found to be more stable to possible prebiotic conditions — in terms of heat, pH and ionic strength — when formed from mixtures of components.

    • Andrew Bissette
  • News and Views |

    Proteins are biosynthesized from α-amino acids using hefty biological machinery, but the origin of this process on the early Earth is unclear. Now, a bottom-up approach for forming peptides, taking place under mild, prebiotically-plausible conditions, has been developed. This strategy uses α-aminonitrile precursors, bypassing α-amino acids entirely.

    • Robert Pascal
    •  & Irene A. Chen
    Nature Chemistry 11, 763-764
  • News and Views |

    The chemical functionality necessary for the origin of life may have emerged from simple reactions assembled into complex networks. Now, it has been shown that prebiotically relevant heterogeneous reaction networks can generate robust oscillations within complex mixtures comprised of precursors that do not oscillate on their own.

    • Nathaniel Wagner
    •  & Gonen Ashkenasy
    Nature Chemistry 11, 681-683