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CeNS Colloquium

Place: Kleiner Physik-Hörsaal, Geschwister-Scholl-Platz
Date: 04.02.11, Time: 15:30 h

The hard problems of the origin of life

Prof. Eörs Szathmáry
Collegium Budapest (Institute for Advanced Study) and Parmenides Stiftung, Pullach


Life is a symbiosis between templates, metabolism and membranes. The question is how such systems could have self-assembled in early chemical and biological evolution. Synthesis of organics can be achieved by various means, but we should also enquire about the origin of chemical supersystems, out of which some will show characteristics of life.

The main problem of the origin of life is the notorious presence of side reactions. In contemporary living systems enzymes are sufficient to ensure that required reactions win over side reactions, but of course one cannot start with enzymes in the earliest times. Spontaneous degradation of molecules, high mutation rates, nucleotide elongation competing with replication, and tar formation are all plagues to our understanding how life could have originated.

The RNA world idea at least helps us separate the very problem of the origin of life from that of the genetic code. Snags are that we do not know where RNA came from and we still do not have a functioning replicase ribozyme. In contrast, we have now a promising view of component processes that could have led to the origin of the genetic code.