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Assembling LifeHow Can Life Begin on Earth and Other Habitable Planets?$
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David W. Deamer

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190646387

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190646387.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 17 October 2021

Cycles, Compartments, and Polymerization

Cycles, Compartments, and Polymerization

(p.114) 9 Cycles, Compartments, and Polymerization
Assembling Life

David W. Deamer

Oxford University Press

The two quotes in the epigraph, in juxtaposition, always make me smile, and I tried to keep them in mind while writing this chapter. The first eight chapters of this book have the effect of eliminating the impossible by investigating the facts to which Twain is referring. Perhaps he would consider them trifling, but I doubt that Twain ever performed an experiment to test an idea. Every working scientist knows that science is not just a set of facts but is also a set of questions. The best way to begin answering a question is to pose a hypothesis and that hypothesis begins as a conjecture. Only when we have a hypothesis, can we design experiments to test it, and if we are lucky, the results of those experiments lead us a little closer to the truth. This chapter summarizes facts that lead to an alternative scenario for life’s origin in freshwater hydrothermal conditions rather than a marine origin in saltwater hydrothermal vents. As stated in the introduction to this book, when assumptions are part of the story they will be made explicit so that the logic that arises from them will be clear. What follows in this overview is a list of ten prerequisites we assume are necessary for cellular life to begin, followed by eight assumptions underlying the scenario to be presented here. Prerequisite conditions for life to begin: Dilute solutions of potential reactants are available, together with a process by which they can be sufficiently concentrated to react. Energy sources available in the environment can drive reactions such as carbon fixation, primitive metabolism, and polymerization. Products of reactions accumulate within the site rather than dispersing into the bulk phase environment. Amphiphiles assemble into membranous compartments over the range of temperatures, salt concentrations, and pH values related to each site. Biologically relevant polymers are synthesized with chain lengths sufficient to act as catalysts or incorporate genetic information. A plausible physical mechanism can produce encapsulated polymers as protocells then subject them to combinatorial selection. Organic solutes in aqueous solutions become biochemical solutes within protocells and then substrates supporting a primitive metabolism.

Keywords:   X-ray diffraction, gel electrophoresis, hyperchromicity, intercalation, liquid crystal, nanopore analysis, organizing matrix, polymerization

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