The Evolution of Life

Life from Non-Life What We Know and Not Why It’s Important

Early Theories and Breakthroughs
• Spontaneous generation: Life can come from non-life
– Maggots come from decaying meat; worms from hair; frogs, mice from slime, beetles from dung, etc.

• Francesco Redi – found maggots don’t form on meat in sealed jars, disproving spontaneous generation • Leeuwenhoek (1675) – found the microscopic life stages of insects; later he found bacteria, sperm • Pasteur – explained the roles of pathogens in causing disease, microbes in fermentation

So How Did Life Begin? And why assume a common origin?
• Out of many types of natural amino acids, only 20 are used by living things, all lefthanded • All organisms use DNA and RNA for reproduction • All cells use ATP for energy

Miller-Urey Experiment (1953)
• Gases in earth’s early atmosphere


Amino acids, organic compounds • Other experiments add UV, produce RNA components • Miller et al. did NOT create life, but showed how easy it is to produce its raw materials

Life’s Lego Bricks
Elements (C, O, N, H, P, S) form molecules (e.g., water, phosphates, sugars), which join to form macromolecules (MMs) • Polysaccharides: chains of sugars (e.g., starch, cellulose), provide energy through ATP • Lipids: MMs with a water-repelling end (fats), form cell membranes • Nucleic acids: MMs with sugar, phosphate plus a base (A, C, T or G); form long links (nucleotides), basis for DNA/RNA (replication) • Amino acids: join together to form proteins, which are enzymes that speed up reactions (catalysts)

Modern DNA are codes for making proteins, which regulate all cellular functions (not just replication)

What is to be ALIVE?
Metabolize – get food, energy; release waste

Replicate make copies of itself

Have a structure – separate insides from outside

Big questions: • How did all these functions ever come together in a cell? • Which came first?

Major theories
• Replicators first: Genes → proteins → cells
– Life began when primitive RNA emerged from primordial soup with the ability to make copies of itself – Main problem: Sunlight, water and O2 keeps breaking everything down, so speed (catalysis) is crucial – Originally self-catalyzed, genes later began to synthesize proteins, or control them – Clusters later developed a membrane for protection

• Metabolizers first: Amino acids → proteinoid chains → cells → genes • Structure first: Cells (Coacervates) → enzymes (proteins) → genes
No clear winner among the three theories

Other Proposed Origins
• Deep ocean – all life came from superheated undersea hydrothermal vents
– Deep-ocean vents mimic early conditions on earth. Since life can survive there, maybe it formed there

• E.T.: Life came from outer space, where conditions are more favorable to formation
– Delivered to earth via meteorites, comets

• Complex organic molecules formed on non-organic replication platform: silicate crystals in clay
– Minerals catalyzed, provided templates – Life later freed itself from mineral platforms

So What Do We Know for Sure?
• Creating life is hard, but it had time
– Took about 1 billion years after earth’s formation 4.6 BYA to form first cells – Another 3 billion years to create multicellular organisms

• Once life formed it occupied everything
– Life even changed the earth to be more habitable: the ozone layer – Numbers and types grew exponentially – Today: life is present nearly everywhere we look

• A constant battle: between molecules, then cells, then individuals, etc.
– Change was the rule for survival: evolve or die

• Like it or not, our ancestors were slime