The Science of the Origins of Life
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The Science of the Origins of Life
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The Science of the Origins of Life
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5.5SyntheticBiology5.4Science ofthe Originsof Life5.3FutureEconomics5.2Future ofEducation5.1ComplexSystemsScience4.4Democracy-affirming Technologies4.1Science-basedDiplomacy4.2Advances inScience Diplomacy4.3Digital Technologiesand Conflict3.7InfectiousDiseases3.6Solar RadiationModification3.5OceanStewardship3.4SpaceResources3.3Future FoodSystems3.2WorldSimulation3.1Decarbonisation2.6FutureTherapeutics2.5Organoids2.4ConsciousnessAugmentation2.3RadicalHealthExtension2.2HumanApplicationsof GeneticEngineering2.1CognitiveEnhancement1.6CollectiveIntelligence1.5AugmentedReality1.4BiologicalComputing1.3Brain-inspiredComputing1.2QuantumTechnologies1.1AdvancedAIHIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIAL
5.5SyntheticBiology5.4Science ofthe Originsof Life5.3FutureEconomics5.2Future ofEducation5.1ComplexSystemsScience4.4Democracy-affirming Technologies4.1Science-basedDiplomacy4.2Advances inScience Diplomacy4.3Digital Technologiesand Conflict3.7InfectiousDiseases3.6Solar RadiationModification3.5OceanStewardship3.4SpaceResources3.3Future FoodSystems3.2WorldSimulation3.1Decarbonisation2.6FutureTherapeutics2.5Organoids2.4ConsciousnessAugmentation2.3RadicalHealthExtension2.2HumanApplicationsof GeneticEngineering2.1CognitiveEnhancement1.6CollectiveIntelligence1.5AugmentedReality1.4BiologicalComputing1.3Brain-inspiredComputing1.2QuantumTechnologies1.1AdvancedAIHIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIAL

Emerging Topic:

5.4The Science of the Origins of Life

    Associated Sub-Fields

    Understanding the origins of life is an enormously challenging multi-dimensional problem. It takes in biology, chemistry, geology, palaeontology, physics, cosmology and information theory; attempts to solve it from any of these perspectives in isolation have not proved fruitful, indicating that cross-disciplinary research is essential.

    The central challenge is that living organisms as we know them today are the extremely complex products of a long period of evolutionary change. Those attempting to understand how life arose from inert matter must therefore imagine highly simplified versions of living organisms that could have arisen by a stepwise process of chemical evolution. This has created ongoing debates about whether nucleic acids or other polymers came first, or metabolic reactions, or lipid-based compartments, or something else entirely.12

    The overarching field incorporates a number of supporting investigations, each of which intersects with all the others. These include determining conditions on the early Earth and how they changed; fundamental issues in systems chemistry; and identifying the most essential features of living organisms. As a result, progress in this area depends partly on improvements to the geological record, partly on advancements in measurement techniques necessary to study highly complex chemical systems, and to a great extent on progress in fundamental biology.

    Two significant philosophical difficulties add to the challenges. First, how the origin of life happened is a fundamentally historical question that science cannot definitively answer. The best that can be achieved is to experimentally demonstrate geologically plausible processes that lead to life-like behaviours. Second, there is no agreed definition of life --- and it may not be possible to develop one. Certainly, there has been little progress on that question in recent decades. This means that judging the success of a given experiment is unusually subjective, because researchers can legitimately disagree over whether the end product is truly alive.3

    Selection of GESDA best reads and key reports

    Martina Preiner and a large group of researchers have attempted to find ways to bridge the gaps between sub-fields in a 2020 paper.^4 A 2017 report “Re-conceptualizing the origins of life” aims to bring together a number of approaches.^5 “A Strategy for Origins of Life Research” is a white paper resulting from a 2015 workshop at the Tokyo Institute of Technology that offers “a guide and stimulus to the solution of the most urgent and important issues”.^6

    Emerging Topic:

    Anticipation Potential

    The Science of the Origins of Life

    Sub-Fields:

    Exobiology
    The geological record
    Systems biology
    Prebiotic chemistry
    Understanding the origin of life is an enormously challenging, multi-dimensional problem. But progress is being made, with experts predicting breakthroughs in the next 10-15 years. The anticipation scores in this field are mainly driven by the need for interdisciplinary research and the relatively low awareness of topics like geological evidence gathering and the low rated impact of breakthroughs in this area on our society.

    GESDA Best Reads and Key Resources