Chemical Evolution and the Origins of Life

Status Report From: NASA Astrobiology
Posted: Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The topic of chemical evolution and the origins of life is a primary focus of astrobiology, and is an essential part of understanding life’s origins on Earth and the potential for life beyond our planet. These studies cross disciplines, from prebiotic chemistry to astrophysics, and are relevant to fields that cover the breadth of research funded by the NASA Astrobiology Program.

The journal Chemical Reviews has published a thematic issue dedicated to ‘Chemical Evolution and the Origins of Life,’ which provides a resource concerning the current state-of-the-art in origins research. The issue includes numerous contributions from researchers supported by the NASA Astrobiology Program, with Nicholas Hud (Georgia Institute of Technology) and Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy (Scripps Research Institute) serving as editors. 

The special edition discusses research regarding the inventory of elements and molecules on young planets that can self-assemble into systems that evolve into what could be considered life. The issue covers current understanding in a variety of topics, as well as unsolved problems and challenges as researchers address the question, “Can the origins of life be demonstrated or understood experimentally?”

Nicholas Hud is the Director of the NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution (CCE) at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. The CCE is a collaborative program supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the NASA Astrobiology Program. Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy is a collaborator with the NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution (CCE), and a co-lead of the NASA Astrobiology Program’s Research Coordination Network (RCN), Prebiotic Chemistry and Early Earth Environments (PCE3).

Articles within the special edition that received support from NASA Astrobiology include:

Introduction: Chemical Evolution and the Origins of Life
NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution, PCE3

Chemistry of Abiotic Nucleotide Synthesis
NASA Exobiology Program, NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution

Prebiotic Astrochemistry and the Formation of Molecules of Astrobiological Interest in Interstellar Clouds and Protostellar Disks
NASA Emerging Worlds Program, NASA Astrobiology Institute

Prebiotic Peptides: Molecular Hubs in the Origin of Life
NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution, NASA Postdoctoral Program

Prebiotic Syntheses of Noncanonical Nucleosides and Nucleotides
NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution

Promiscuous Ribozymes and Their Proposed Role in Prebiotic Evolution
NASA Exobiology Program

Root of the Tree: The Significance, Evolution, and Origins of the Ribosome
NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution, NASA Postdoctoral Program

The Search for Chiral Asymmetry as a Potential Biosignature in our Solar System
NASA Astrobiology Institute

Thermodynamics of Prebiotic Phosphorylation
NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution

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