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
|Contact: Skip Derra|
Arizona State University