Historical perspective: The problem of the origin of life in the context of developments in biology

  • Harmke Kamminga


The structure of the history of scientific ideas on the origin of life, after Darwin's theory of evolution brought the problem into focus, is discussed. 19th-century theories in the mainstream of historical development already included some notion of chemical evolution. These theories were limited, however, by their reliance on a protoplasmic view of life, according to which the protoplasmic substance combines all vital properties.

It was only when this holistic concept of protoplasm was abandoned that a clear distinction between different vital functions such as metabolism and replication was made. This led to two schools of thought in the origin of life field, one inspired by biochemistry and one by genetics.

Oparin's theory, which was rooted in the metabolic traditions of biochemistry, provided a model which has had a lasting impact in methodological terms and which helped to transform the field from a largely theoretical one to an area of active research. Genetically based theories, on the other hand, had a delayed impact in this respect, because of long-lasting uncertainty regarding the structural basis of gene function.


Organic Chemistry Geochemistry Gene Function Historical Development Structural Basis 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Harmke Kamminga
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of Science, King's College (KQC)University of LondonLondonUK

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