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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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Integrating Chemistry, Geology, and Life’s Origin Coauthored with Bruce Damer

Integrating Chemistry, Geology, and Life’s Origin Coauthored with Bruce Damer

(p.130) 10 Integrating Chemistry, Geology, and Life’s Origin Coauthored with Bruce Damer
Assembling Life

David W. Deamer

Oxford University Press

Chapter 8 recalled John Platt’s recommendation that testing alternative hypotheses is a preferred way to perform research rather than focusing on a single hypothesis. Karl Popper proposed an additional way to evaluate research approaches, which is that a strong hypothesis is one that can be falsified by one or more crucial experiments. This chapter proposes that life can begin with chance ensembles of encapsulated polymers, some of which happen to store genetic information in the linear sequences of their monomers while others catalyze polymerization reactions. These interact in cycles in which genetic polymers guide the synthesis of catalytic polymers, which in turn catalyze the synthesis of the genetic polymers. At first, the cycle occurs in the absence of metabolism, driven solely by the existing chemical energy available in the environment. At a later stage, other polymers incorporated in the encapsulated systems begin to function as catalysts of primitive metabolic reactions described in Chapter 7. The emergence of protocells with metabolic processes that support polymerization of self-reproducing systems of interacting catalytic and genetic polymers marks the final step in the origin of life. The above scenario can be turned into a hypothesis if it can be experimentally tested— or falsified, as described in the epigraph. The goal of falsification tends to be uncomfortable for active researchers. It’s a very human tendency to be delighted with a creative new idea and want to prove it correct. This can be such a strong emotion that some fall in love with their idea and actually hesitate to test it. They begin to dislike colleagues who are critical and skeptical. However, my experience after 50 years of active research is that we need to think of our ideas as mental maps and expect that most of them will not match the real world very well. And so, I say to my students, “When you have a new idea it’s OK to enjoy it and share it with others, but then you must come up with an experiment that lets you discard it.

Keywords:   Darwinian threshold, Goldilocks chemistry, Hadean Earth, LUCA, Popper, Karl, Woese, Carl, amphiphiles, falsification, multilamellar structures, selective hurdles

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