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.

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    | Open Access

    Liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS) underlies the formation of intracellular membraneless compartments in biology and may have played a role in the formation of protocells that concentrate key chemicals during the origins of life. While LLPS of simple systems, such as oil and water, is well understood, many aspects of LLPS in complex, out-of-equilibrium molecular systems remain elusive. Here, the author discusses open questions and recent insights related to the formation, function and fate of such condensates both in cell biology and protocell research.

    • Evan Spruijt
  • News & Views |

    The interactions of lipid bilayer cell membranes with liquid biomolecular condensates are key to many biological processes, including endocytosis. New research shows a model system of liposomes that are able to engulf droplets, effectively mimicking endocytosis.

    • Jianhui Liu
    •  & Ben Zhong Tang
  • Research Highlights |

    A new proposal for the origin of asymmetry and, by extension, the origin of life uses spin-polarized electrons to induce enantioselective chemistry in the prebiotic world.

    • Stephanie Greed
  • News & Views |

    Amino-containing four-carbon threose nucleic acids (TNAs) have long been considered to be prebiotically irrelevant due to their difficult formation. Now, a prebiotically plausible route to 3′-amino-TNA nucleoside triphosphate has been developed, raising the possibility of 3′-amino-TNA as a non-canonical nucleic acid during the origin of life.

    • Yingyu Liu
    •  & Yajun Wang
    Nature Chemistry 14, 725-727
  • News & Views |

    Explaining the controlled emergence and growth of molecular complexity at life’s origins is one of prebiotic chemistry’s grand challenges. Now, it has been shown that we can observe how the self-organization of a complex carbohydrate network can be modulated by its environment.

    • Quentin Dherbassy
    •  & Kamila B. Muchowska
    Nature Chemistry 14, 597-599
  • News & Views |

    The emergence of protometabolic reactions that evolved into today’s metabolic pathways is unclear. Now, evidence suggests that the chemical origin of biological carbon metabolism may have relied on the versatility of a single primitive C1 feedstock molecule — hydrogen cyanide.

    • Saidul Islam
    Nature Chemistry 14, 123-125