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Leverhulme Centre for Life in the Universe


Identifying the chemical pathways to the origins of life

The transition from prebiotic chemistry to living systems occurred within a narrow window in Earth’s early history. One approach to unravelling life’s chemical origins involves exploring the many possible pathways from simple molecules synthesised in ancient environments, to self-replicating systems leading to the last universal common ancestor (LUCA; Sutherland 2016). As a starting point, these pathways may be differentiated by considering: 'complexity’, which can be loosely categorised by the size of the chemical molecules involved, and 'aliveness', or the ability of a multi-molecular system to reproduce and/or adapt to evolving environmental conditions. This research objective will prioritise continuous collaboration between physical scientists and arts and humanities scholars to recognise the onset of ‘living’ systems.

Chemical pathways along the transition from prebiotic chemistry to life: Chemical pathways connecting the inanimate state to the animate can only be confidently unravelled with detailed knowledge of planetary environments, and fresh analysis of concepts such as ‘aliveness’, ‘complexity’ and ‘life’.