Darwin’s warm little pond revisited: from molecules to the origin of life
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- Follmann, H. & Brownson, C. Naturwissenschaften (2009) 96: 1265. doi:10.1007/s00114-009-0602-1
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All known cosmic and geological conditions and laws of chemistry and thermodynamics allow that complex organic matter could have formed spontaneously on pristine planet Earth about 4,000 mya. Simple gasses and minerals on the surface and in oceans of the early Earth reacted and were eventually organized in supramolecular aggregates and enveloped cells that evolved into primitive forms of life. Chemical evolution, which preceded all species of extant organisms, is a fact. In this review, we have concentrated on experimental and theoretical research published over the last two decades, which has added a wealth of new details and helped to close gaps in our previous understanding of this multifaceted field. Recent exciting progress in the molecular and genetic analyses of existing life, in particular microorganisms of ancient origin, even supports the possibility that a cellular, self-reproducing common ancestor might be assembled and resurrected in anaerobic cultures at some time in the future. Charles Darwin did not, and indeed, could not, address and specify the earliest phases of life which preceded the Origin of Species. However, in a famous letter, he sketched “a warm little pond with all sorts of… (chemicals, in which) …a protein was chemically formed.” We try to trace the impact of his charming clear-sighted metaphor up to the present time.