Last week, scientists from around the world were all about building a deeper understanding of the nature of biology, including modeling the origins of life on an abstract level starting from prebiotic conditions on Earth and, possibly, on other planets. The Geophysical Laboratory hosted Re-conceptualizing the Origin of Life, a week-long conference at our Washington, D.C. headquarters, exploring experimental, interdisciplinary and computational windows on the core concepts.GL's George Cody, Robert Hazen, Irena Mamajanov and Dionysis Foustoukos presented talks and posters ranging from the subsurface biosphere and functional prebiotic polymers to mineral-molecule interactions and life's origins.
From the program:
"Physics and chemistry have arrived at a deep understanding of the non‑living world. Can we expect to reach similar insights, integrating concepts and quantitative explanation, in biology? Life at its origin should be particularly amenable to discovery of scientific laws governing biology, since it marks the point of departure from a predictable physical/chemical world to the novel and history-dependent living world. The origin of life problem is difficult because even the simplest living cell is highly evolved from the first steps toward life, of which little direct evidence remains. By modeling the origins of life on a sufficiently abstract level, starting from prebiotic conditions on Earth and possibly on other planets, we will explore ways to build a deeper understanding of the nature of biology. We will study the origin of life as part of a larger concern with the origins of organization, including major transitions in the living state and structure formation in complex systems science."
This conference is the outgrowth of a grassroots movement called ʺModeling Origins of Life" (MOL), that sprung up from a number of informal workshops that were organized in the United States and in Japan in 2014.