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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies

2. The Origins of Life

Hanczyc, Martin. Metabolism and Motility in Prebiotic Structures. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 366/2885, 2011. A paper in an issue on The Chemical Origins of Life and its Early Evolution, see Lilley below. In a similar way as Leroy Cronin (search), a University of Southern Denmark, Center for Fundamental Living Technology, biochemist reports an inherent, persistent tendency of so-called “inorganic” materiality to congeal into vesicular droplets, in some guise as primordial protocells. May thus one add an even earlier stage to animate nature’s sequential nest of dolled-up compartmental cells and multicellular selves, lately reaching us writer and reader. Newly edified by this discovery, may we intentionally continue such communality as “social proto-cells,” of nominal 100 persons, the archetypal human grouping, as Sustainable Ecovillages herein personifies?

Easily accessible, primitive chemical structures produced by self-assembly of hydrophobic substances into oil droplets may result in self-moving agents able to sense their environment and move to avoid equilibrium. These structures would constitute very primitive examples of life on the Earth, even more primitive than simple bilayer vesicle structures. A few examples of simple chemical systems are presented that self-organize to produce oil droplets capable of movement, environment remodelling and primitive chemotaxis. Such motile agents would be capable of finding resources while escaping equilibrium and sustaining themselves through an internal metabolism, thus providing a working chemical model for a possible origin of life. (2885)

Hazen, Robert. Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origin. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 2005. A synopsis of this premier perception of an innate gestation is cited in Current Vistas.

Hazen, Robert. Geochemical Origins of Life. Knoll, Andrew, et al, eds. Fundamentals of Geobiology. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. In a volume reviewed more in A Living Planet, the Carnegie Institution of Washington geochemist and author proposes, from this vista, that a “progressive sequence” from physical matter to organic entities can be attributed to the innate action of self-organizing, complex adaptive systems. By these lights, the “emergence of natural selection” occurs quite after and ancillary to this vitalizing force. The chapter concludes by saying such an inclusive synthesis can settle the current metabolism or replication first argument, as the second quotes cites.

Emergence as a Unifying Concept in Origins Research Life’s origins can be modeled as a sequence of so-called ‘emergent’ events, each of which added new structure and chemical complexity to the prebiotic Earth. Observations of numerous everyday phenomena reveal that new patterns commonly emerge when energy flows through a collection of many interacting particles. (315) In the words of John Holland….emergent systems display three distinctive characteristics: they arise from the interactions of many ‘agents,’ energy flows through those systems, and they display new patterns or behaviors that are not manifest by the individual agents. (315)

3. Life began as a cooperative chemical phenomenon between metabolism and genetics: A third possible scenario rests on the possibility that neither primitive metabolic cycles (which lack the means of faithful self-replication) nor primitive genetic molecules (which are not very stable and lack a reliable source of chemical energy) could have progressed far by themselves. If, however, a crudely self-replication genetic molecule became attached to a crudely functioning surface-bound metabolic coating, then a kind of cooperative chemistry might have kicked in. (328)

Hazen, Robert. The Emergence of Patterning in Life’s Origin and Evolution. International Journal of Developmental Biology. 53/5-6, 2009. An update by a prime contributor to the revolution that the universe is not alien to or bereft of life, but rather an ordained nature seems made to generate complex viable systems. In so doing, generic complex, self-organizing, adaptive systems composed of many agents in informed interrelation are increasingly and robustly found everywhere.

Three principles guide natural pattern formation in both biological and non-living systems: (1) patterns form from interactions of numerous individual particles, or “agents,” such as sand grains, molecules, cells or organisms; (2) assemblages of agents can adopt combinatorially large numbers of different configurations; (3) observed patterns emerge through the selection of highly functional configurations. (683)

Complex patterning is a hallmark of biological systems at every scale, from molecules to cells to organisms to ecosystems. Life’s triumph of order over chaos is the epitome of the more general natural phenomenon of emergent systems, in which numerous components or “agents” respond to their local environments, thus interacting to produce patterns or behaviors not characteristic of individual agents. (683)

Hengeveld, Rob, ed. Recent Work on the Origin of Life. Acta Biotheoretica. 55/2, 2007. A special issue of some 225 pages that contains substantial papers such as an “alkaline solution” to life’s start, and how this salient event was bootstrapped upon energy flows.

Herdewijn, Piet and M. Volkan Kisakurek, eds. Origin of Life: Chemical Approach. Weinheim: WILEY-VCH Verlag, 2008. A recent collection from Chemistry & Biodiversity with notable authors such as Christian de Duve and Antonio Lazcano. A good review by Harold Morowitz appears in the March 2009 issue of the Quarterly Review of Biology.

Higgs, Paul. When is a Reaction Network a Metabolism? Criteria for Simple Metabolisms that Support Growth and Division of Protocells. Life. 11/9, 2021. In a paper for a special Prebiotic Systems Chemistry issue, the McMaster University, Ontario biochemist (search) continues his project to reconstruct and explain how living systems came to form, develop and evolve eons ago. Something was going on by itself, which is becoming intelligible to an individual and global collaboration. One wonders by what sufficient veracity might it dawn that a greater phenomenal genesis from which we arise exists on its independent own.

As a way to better understand the nature of metabolism in the first cells, and life’s metabolic origin, we propose three criteria that a chemical reaction must satisfy to sustain the growth and division of a protocell. (1) Biomolecules produced by the reaction system must be at high concentration inside the cell while they remain at low or zero on the outside. (2) The solute concentration inside the cell must be higher than outside. (3) These criteria can be met if the reaction system is bistable, because different concentrations can exist inside and out while all the reactions are the same. (Abstract excerpt)

Hogeweg, Paulien and Nobuto Takeuchi. Multilevel Selection in Models of Prebiotic Evolution. Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere. 33/4-5, 2003. Life arose due to self-organizing dynamics which formed bounded vesicles and spatial hierarchies.

It appears not only that the formation of multiple levels of selection shaped living systems on this planet, models show that the occurrence of new level of selection is an inevitable property of eco-evolutionary processes when interactions occur locally in space. (375)

Hud, Nicholas and David Lynn, eds. Model Systems From Life’s Origins to a Synthetic Biology. Current Opinion in Chemical Biology. 8/627, 2004. Of especial note is Benner, Steven, et al. Is There a Common Chemical Model for Life in the Universe?. Whenever there is a thermal disequilibrium and temperatures consistent with chemical bonding, living systems of some kind will appear. Further features of a habitable environment are a solvent bath, availability of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, and relative isolation.

These inevitable developments will open the field of a new synthetic science, beyond defining the origins of living systems, where the powerful principles of biology can be extended and enriched in new ways, ways that both benefit mankind and deepen our understanding of the Universe. (628)

Humphries, Courtney. Life’s Beginnings. Harvard Magazine. September/October, 2013. A Boston science writer interviews major players in this field conveniently at Harvard and environs for a succinct update. Inspired by recent exo-planet findings and implications, astronomer Dimitar Sasselov, paleontologist Andrew Knoll, Nobel laureate chemist Jack Szostak, geneticist George Church, and mathematical biologist Martin Nowak, along with MIT astrobiologist Sara Seager, offer scientific intimations of a conducive cosmos that by way of “universal principles” is innately made for life to appear and evolve.

Life requires more than just getting the right molecules together—it’s an engine propelled by evolution. Martin Nowak, professor of mathematics and of biology and a member of the (Origins of Life) initiative, says that most biologists think of evolution as a process that takes place among organisms that reproduce; evolution at the level of molecules is unfamiliar. But Nowak looks at the problem from a mathematical perspective; to him, evolution “is a well defined process that can be described as precise mathematical equations.” Accordingly, he believes that the same principles governing complex life forms must have been present at the simplest levels—otherwise scenarios for the origins of life depend on a collection of random events. (74)

Ingber, Donald. The Origin of Cellular Life. BioEssays. 22/12, 2000. Nature’s employ of a tensegrity geometry forms hierarchical cell and skeletal structures facilitated by “self-renewing functional webs through the emergence of autocatalytic sets.”

My premise in this article is that evolution is the process by which matter self-organizes in space and, thus, that the origin of life is merely one aspect of the natural evolution of the cosmos. (1160)

Jortner, Joshua. Conditions for the Emergence of Life on the Early Earth. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 361/1877, 2006. A reflective summary of a dedicated issue on this subject. One of the most complete and up-to-date sources on the origin and ramifications of life, but within a mechanistic frame. A noteworthy aspect is an accepted recognition of intrinsic self-organizing dynamics.

The arsenal of self-organization of complex biological matter driven by information acquisition, storage, retrieval and transfer, which allows selection, adaptation, self-reproduction, evolution and metabolism may constitute many of the missing links… (1879)

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