Navigation Links
ASU researchers propose new way to look at the dawn of life
Date:12/12/2012

TEMPE, Ariz. One of the great mysteries of life is how it began. What physical process transformed a nonliving mix of chemicals into something as complex as a living cell?

For more than a century, scientists have struggled to reconstruct the key first steps on the road to life. Until recently, their focus has been trained on how the simple building blocks of life might have been synthesized on the early Earth, or perhaps in space. But because it happened so long ago, all chemical traces have long been obliterated, leaving plenty of scope for speculation and disagreement.

Now, a novel approach to the question of life's origin, proposed by two Arizona State University scientists, attempts to dramatically redefine the problem. The researchers Paul Davies, an ASU Regents' Professor and director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, and Sara Walker, a NASA post-doctoral fellow at the Beyond Center published their theory in the current issue (Dec. 12) of the Royal Society journal Interface. Their article is titled "The algorithmic origins of life."

In a nutshell, the authors shift attention from the "hardware" the chemical basis of life to the "software" its information content. To use a computer analogy, chemistry explains the material substance of the machine, but it won't function without a program and data. Davies and Walker suggest that the crucial distinction between non-life and life is the way that living organisms manage the information flowing through the system.

"When we describe biological processes we typically use informational narratives cells send out signals, developmental programs are run, coded instructions are read, genomic data are transmitted between generations and so forth," Walker said. "So identifying life's origin in the way information is processed and managed can open up new avenues for research."

"We propose that the transition from non-life to life is unique and definable," added Davies. "We suggest that life may be characterized by its distinctive and active use of information, thus providing a roadmap to identify rigorous criteria for the emergence of life. This is in sharp contrast to a century of thought in which the transition to life has been cast as a problem of chemistry, with the goal of identifying a plausible reaction pathway from chemical mixtures to a living entity."

Focusing on informational development helps move away from some of the inherent disadvantages of trying to pin down the beginnings of chemical life.

"Chemical based approaches," Walker said, "have stalled at a very early stage of chemical complexity very far from anything we would consider 'alive.' More seriously they suffer from conceptual shortcomings in that they fail to distinguish between chemistry and biology."

"To a physicist or chemist life seems like 'magic matter,'" Davies explained. "It behaves in extraordinary ways that are unmatched in any other complex physical or chemical system. Such lifelike properties include autonomy, adaptability and goal-oriented behavior the ability to harness chemical reactions to enact a pre-programmed agenda, rather than being a slave to those reactions."

"We believe the transition in the informational architecture of chemical networks is akin to a phase transition in physics, and we place special emphasis on the top-down information flow in which the system as a whole gains causal purchase over its components," Davies added. "This approach will reveal how the logical organization of biological replicators differs crucially from trivial replication associated with crystals (non-life). By addressing the causal role of information directly, many of the baffling qualities of life are explained."

The authors expect that, by re-shaping the conceptual landscape in this fundamental way, not just the origin of life, but other major transitions will be explained, for example, the leap from single cells to multi-cellularity.

In addition to being a post-doctoral Fellow at the Beyond Center, Walker is affiliated with the NASA Astrobiology Institute in Mountain View, Calif., and the Blue Marble Space Institute, Seattle.


'/>"/>

Contact: Skip Derra
skip.derra@asu.edu
480-965-4823
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. New geometries: Researchers create new shapes of artificial microcompartments
2. UGA researchers find algal ancestor is key to how deadly pathogens proliferate
3. Researchers identify new components of the epigenetic code for honey bee development
4. Researchers find new genetic pathway behind neurodevelopmental disorders
5. Researchers investigate impacts of climate change on rare tropical plants
6. Researchers identify proteins that indicate which kidney tumors are most likely to spread
7. Microchoreography: Researchers use synthetic molecule to guide cellular dance
8. Einstein researchers receive 2 Grand Challenges Explorations grants to combat HIV and TB
9. University of Tennessee researchers find fungus has cancer-fighting power
10. UC Davis researchers aid effort to sequence the complex wheat genome
11. Joslin researchers increase understanding of genetic risk factor for type 1 diabetes
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:4/6/2017)... Forecasts by Product Type (EAC), Biometrics, Card-Based ... & Logistics, Government & Public Sector, Utilities / Energy ... Nuclear Power), Industrial, Retail, Business Organisation (BFSI), Hospitality & ... for a definitive report on the $27.9bn Access Control ... ...
(Date:4/3/2017)... April 3, 2017  Data captured by ... platform, detected a statistically significant association between ... to treatment and objective response of cancer ... to predict whether cancer patients will respond ... as well as to improve both pre-infusion potency ...
(Date:3/28/2017)... 28, 2017 The report "Video ... Monitors, Servers, Storage Devices), Software (Video Analytics, VMS), and ... Global Forecast to 2022", published by MarketsandMarkets, the market ... is projected to reach USD 75.64 Billion by 2022, ... The base year considered for the study is 2016 ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:10/12/2017)... CA (PRWEB) , ... October ... ... (https://www.onramp.bio/ ) has launched Rosalind™, the first-ever genomics analysis platform specifically designed ... bioinformatics complexity. Named in honor of pioneering researcher Rosalind Franklin, who made ...
(Date:10/11/2017)... ... October 11, 2017 , ... The CRISPR-Cas9 ... overexpression experiments and avoiding the use of exogenous expression plasmids. The simplicity of ... performing systematic gain-of-function studies. , This complement to loss-of-function studies, such as ...
(Date:10/11/2017)... ... October 11, 2017 , ... ComplianceOnline’s Medical Device Summit is back for ... June 2018 in San Francisco, CA. The Summit brings together current and former FDA ... board directors and government officials from around the world to address key issues in ...
(Date:10/11/2017)... , Oct. 11, 2017  VMS BioMarketing, a leading provider ... nationwide oncology Clinical Nurse Educator (CNE) network, which will launch ... for communication among health care professionals to enhance the patient ... office staff, and other health care professionals to help women ... cancer. ...
Breaking Biology Technology: