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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
– 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
• Leeuwenhoek (1675) – found the microscopic
life stages of insects; later he found bacteria,
• 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 left-
• All organisms use DNA and RNA for
• All cells use ATP for energy
• Gases in earth’s early
Amino acids, organic
• Other experiments add
UV, produce RNA
• 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
What is to be Replicate -
ALIVE? make copies of

Metabolize – LIFE
get food,
energy; release
waste Have a structure
– separate
insides from
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