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The Origins of Life

Subject Area(s):  Cell BiologyMolecular BiologyBiochemistryOrigin and Evolution of Life

Edited by David Deamer, University of California, Santa Cruz; Jack W. Szostak, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital

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© 2010 • 318 pp., illus. (47 color, 50 b/w), index
Trim size: 7" x 10"
Hardcover • $135 67.50
ISBN  978-1-936113-04-0
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Life arose on Earth more than three billion years ago. How the first self-replicating systems emerged from prebiotic chemistry and evolved into primitive cell-like entities is an area of intense research, spanning molecular and cellular biology, organic chemistry, cosmology, geology, and atmospheric science.

Written and edited by experts in the field, this collection from Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology provides a comprehensive account of the environment of the early Earth and the mechanisms by which the organic molecules present may have self-assembled to form replicating material such as RNA and other polymers. The contributors examine the energetic requirements for this process and focus in particular on the essential role of semi-permeable compartments in containment of primitive genetic systems.

Also covered in the book are new synthetic approaches for fabricating cellular systems, the potentially extraterrestrial origin of life's building blocks, and the possibility that life once existed on Mars. Comprising five sections—Setting the Stage, Components of First Life, Primitive Systems, First Polymers, and Transition to a Microbial World—it is a vital reference for all scientists interested in the origin of life on Earth and the likelihood that it has arisen on other planets.


Introduction and Overview
David Deamer and Jack W. Szostak
Historical Development of Origins Research
Antonio Lazcano
Cosmic Carbon Chemistry: From the Interstellar Medium to the Early Earth
Pascale Ehrenfreund and Jan Cami
The Hadean-Archaean Environment
Norman H. Sleep
Earth’s Earliest Atmospheres
Kevin Zahnle, Laura Schaefer, and Bruce Fegley
Planetary Organic Chemistry and the Origins of Biomolecules
Steven A. Benner, Hyo-Joong Kim, Myung-Jung Kim, and Alonso Ricardo
The Organic Composition of Carbonaceous Meteorites: The Evolutionary Story Ahead of Biochemistry
Sandra Pizzarello and Everett Shock
John D. Sutherland
The Origin of Biological Homochirality
Donna G. Blackmond
Bioenergetics and Life’s Origins
David Deamer and Arthur L. Weber
Mineral Surfaces, Geochemical Complexities, and the Origins of Life
Robert M. Hazen and Dimitri A. Sverjensky
From Self-Assembled Vesicles to Protocells
Irene A. Chen and Peter Walde
Membrane Transport in Primitive Cells
Sheref S. Mansy
Primitive Genetic Polymers
Aaron E. Engelhart and Nicholas V. Hud
Closing the Circle: Replicating RNAwith RNA
Leslie K.L. Cheng and Peter J. Unrau
The Origins of Cellular Life
Jason P. Schrum, Ting F. Zhu, and Jack W. Szostak
Origin and Evolution of the Ribosome
George E. Fox
Deep Phylogeny—How a Tree Can Help Characterize Early Life on Earth
Eric A. Gaucher, James T. Kratzer, and Ryan N. Randall
Constructing Partial Models of Cells
Norikazu Ichihashi, Tomoaki Matsuura, Hiroshi Kita, Takeshi Sunami, Hiroaki Suzuki, and Tetsuya Yomo
An Origin of Life on Mars
Christopher P. McKay


review:  “...the volume is an excellent compendium of present day thinking about aspects of life’s origins. Overall, I recommend this volume to anyone who wants to comprehend, and have an appreciation of, the complexities involved in trying to unravel how life began on Earth and whether this could occur elsewhere.”
      —The Quarterly Review of Biology

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