Colloquium: Driving the first steps of Life in non-equilibrium settings
Driving the first steps of Life in non-equilibrium settings
Abstract: How could life emerge on the early Earth? Our experiments investigate the first steps of molecular evolution through non-equilibrium experiments. Typically, we use millimeter-scale temperature gradients, including the effects of water-air interfaces, to mimic conditions in early Earth rock pores. In chambers that simulate heated rock pores, the first information containing molecules of life are shuttled back and forth by surface tension, evaporation, the rmophoresis, and gravity. These environments accumulate and select for length, drive strand separation for replication, and offer a continuous supply of fresh molecules while performing wet-dry cycles. Using sequencing, we see how sequence information emerges from randomness by performing very simple ligation reactions. The experiments illuminate the pitfalls to establishing open-ended evolution. In some cases, the studies are accelerated by using proteins, but we are approaching the realistic case of using only RNA. The effort is embedded in an interdisciplinary network to study autocatalytic networks prior to the on set of Darwinian evolution.