Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 83, Issue 5–6, pp 193–203 | Cite as

Alfonso Luis Herrera and the Beginnings of Evolutionism and Studies in the Origin of Life in Mexico

  • Ismael Ledesma-Mateos
  • H. James CleavesII
Original Article


Alfonso Luis Herrera (1868–1942) was a Mexican biologist, and significant as the principal promoter of Darwinian thought in that country. However, Herrera’s thinking went beyond the evolution of living beings, and extended to the question of the origin of life itself and the place of living phenomena in the larger context of the cosmos. Perhaps more significantly, though now largely forgotten, Herrera was among the first to embark on an experimental program to understand the origin of life, one which may be seen as foundational for later workers, most notably Sidney Fox and Alexander Oparin, and which has been resuscitated recently. We review here the development of Herrera’s scientific thought on Darwinism and the origin of life and the context in which it developed.


Alfonso Herrera Darwinism History of evolution Origin of life Mexico 



HJC would like to thank the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) for funding during the preparation of this manuscript, a JSPS KAKENHI Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas Hadean Bioscience, and the ELSI Origins Network (EON), which is supported by a Grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. Also we are grateful for the DGAPA of the UNAM as part of the Project PAPIT IN 304 208 “La Introducción de los Conceptos y Teorías Fundamentales de la Biología y la Construcción de la Profesión de Biólogo en México, Siglos XIX al XXI” and the Facultad de Estudios Superiores Iztacala de la UNAM.


  1. Alexander J (1926) Colloid chemistry, theoretical and applied: biology and medicine. Chemical Catalog Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Bahadur K (1966) Synthesis of Jeewanu: The Protocell. Ram Narain Lal Beni Prasad, AllahabadGoogle Scholar
  3. Barahona Echeverría A, Ledesma Mateos I (2002) El Positivismo y los orígenes de la Biología en México. Arch Int Hist Sci 52:277Google Scholar
  4. Barge LM, Cardoso SS, Cartwright JH, Cooper GJ, Cronin L, De Wit A, Doloboff IJ, Escribano B, Goldstein RE, Haudin F (2015) From chemical gardens to chemobrionics. Chem Rev 115:8652CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Barreda G (1877) Memorias. Anales de la Sociedad Metodófila Gabino Barreda I:97Google Scholar
  6. Bastian HC (1872) The beginnings of life. Macmillan and co, LondonGoogle Scholar
  7. Beltrán E (1968) Alfonso L. Herrera (1868-1968). Primera figura de la biología mexicana. Rev Soc Mex Hist Nat XXIX:38Google Scholar
  8. Beltrán E (1982) Contribución de México a la Biología, México Consejo Nacional para la Enseñanza de la Biología. Compañía Editorial Continental, MéxicoGoogle Scholar
  9. Bungenberg de Jong H (1936) La coacervation, les coacervats et leur importance en biologie. Hermann et Cie, ParisGoogle Scholar
  10. Chamberlin T, Chamberlin R (1908) Early terrestrial conditions that may have favored organic synthesis. Science 28:897–911CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Cleaves HJ, Lazcano A, Mateos IL, Negrón-Mendoza A, Peretó J, Silva E (2014) Herrera’s ‘Plasmogenia’ and other collected works: early writings on the experimental study of the origin of life. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Dalrymple GB (1994) The age of the Earth. Stanford University Press, StanfordGoogle Scholar
  13. Farley J (1977) The spontaneous generation controversy from Descartes to Oparin. The Johns Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  14. Fox SW, Dose K (1972) Molecular evolution and the origin of life. W. H. Freeman, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  15. Fox SW, Harada K (1958) Thermal copolymerization of amino acids to a product resembling protein. Science 128:1214CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Fraser CL, Folsome CE (1975) Exponential kinetics of formation or organic microstructures. Orig Life 6:429CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Fry I (2000) Emergence of life on Earth: a historical and scientific overview. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJGoogle Scholar
  18. Garenne D, Beven L, Navailles L, Nallet F, Dufourc EJ, Douliez JP (2016) Sequestration of proteins by fatty acid coacervates for their encapsulation within vesicles. Angew Chem Int Ed 55:13475CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Genoves S (1959) Darwin y la antropología. Rev Soc Mex Hist Nat XX:31Google Scholar
  20. Gesteland RF, Atkins JF (1993) The RNA world: the nature of modern RNA suggests a prebiotic RNA world. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold Spring Harbor, NYGoogle Scholar
  21. Gibson DG, Benders GA, Andrews-Pfannkoch C, Denisova EA, Baden-Tillson H, Zaveri J, Stockwell TB, Brownley A, Thomas DW, Algire MA, Merryman C, Young L, Noskov VN, Glass JI, Venter JC, Hutchison CA, Smith HO (2008) Complete chemical synthesis, assembly, and cloning of a Mycoplasma genitalium genome. Science 319:1215CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Guevara Fefer RG (1995) El naturalista Alfonso Herrera Fernández Facultad de Filosofía y Letras. UNAM, MéxicoGoogle Scholar
  23. Haldane JBS (1929) The origin of life. Ration Ann 148:3Google Scholar
  24. Herrera AL (1887) Nota Relativa a las causas que producen atrofia de los pelos. Refutación a un argumento de M. de Quatrefages. An Mus Nac Méx IV:216Google Scholar
  25. Herrera AL (1892–1893) Medios de defensa en los animales. Memorias de la Sociedad Científica V–VI:251Google Scholar
  26. Herrera AL (1895–1896) Memorias de la sociedad científica. Antonio Alzate IX:221Google Scholar
  27. Herrera AL (1897) Recueil des Lois de la Biologie Générale. Oficina Tipografica de la Secretaria de Fomento, MéxicoGoogle Scholar
  28. Herrera AL (1904) Nociones de Biología. Imprenta de la Secretaría de Fomento, MéxicoGoogle Scholar
  29. Herrera AL (1912) Arch Plasmol Gen 1:55Google Scholar
  30. Herrera AL (1921) La plasmogenia. Imprenta y papeleria de Rambla, Bouza y caGoogle Scholar
  31. Herrera AL (1924) Biología y plasmogenia. Herrero Hermanos Sucesores, MéxicoGoogle Scholar
  32. Herrera AL (1942) A new theory of the origin and nature of life. Science 96:14CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Herrera López AL (1895–1896) Hérésies taxonomistes. Memorias de la Sociedad Científica “Antonio Alzate IX:13Google Scholar
  34. Jackson GA (1948) The chemistry of controlled mutations. Proc Indiana Acad Sci 58:137–139Google Scholar
  35. Jia TZ, Hentrich C, Szostak JW (2014) Rapid RNA exchange in aqueous two-phase system and coacervate droplets. Orig Life Evol Biosph 44:1CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  36. Kamminga H (1980) Studies in the history of ideas on the origin of life from 1860. University of London, LondonGoogle Scholar
  37. Keller EF (2009) Making sense of life: explaining biological development with models, metaphors, and machines. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  38. Lahav N (1999) Biogenesis: theories of life’s origin. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  39. Ledesma-Mateos I (1992) Prologo a la edición facsimilar de: Herrera, Alfonso L. Nociones de Biología. Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, MéxicoGoogle Scholar
  40. Ledesma-Mateos I (2002a) Alfonso L. Herrera. El sabio del ciprés. UNAM, MéxicoGoogle Scholar
  41. Ledesma-Mateos I (2002b) La introducción de los paradigmas de la biología en México y la obra de Alfonso L. Herrera. Hist Mex LII:201Google Scholar
  42. Ledesma-Mateos I (2009) Biología, institución y profesión: Centros y Periferias., MéxicoGoogle Scholar
  43. Ledesma-Mateos I, Barahona A (1999) Alfonso Luis Herrera e Isaac Ochoterena: la institucionalización de la Biología en México. Hist Mex XLVIII:635Google Scholar
  44. Leduc S (1912) La biologie synthétique. A. Poinat, ParisGoogle Scholar
  45. Mason SF (1991) Chemical evolution: origin of the elements, molecules, and living systems. Clarendon Press, University of MichiganGoogle Scholar
  46. Maldonado-Koerdell M (1959) Linneus, Darwin y Wallace en la bibliografía mexicana de ciencias naturales. I. Primeras referencias a sus ideas en México. Rev Soc Mex Hist Nat XX:63Google Scholar
  47. Mesler B, Cleaves HJ (2015) A brief history of creation: science and the search for the origin of life. W. W. Norton, Incorporated, Princeton, NJGoogle Scholar
  48. Miller SL (1953) A production of amino acids under possible primitive Earth conditions. Science 117:528CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Moreno de los Arcos R (1984) La Polémica del Darwinismo en México: Siglo XIX. UNAM, MéxicoGoogle Scholar
  50. Oparin AI (1924) The Origin of Life. Izd. Moskovshii Rabochii, MoscowGoogle Scholar
  51. Oparin AI, Fox SW (1965) The Origins of Prebiological Systems and of Their Molecular MatricesGoogle Scholar
  52. Orgel LE (1986) Did template-directed nucleation precede molecular replication? Orig Life Evol Biosph 17:27CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Ourisson G, Nakatani Y (1996) Can the molecular origin of life be studied seriously? Comptes rendus de l’Académie des sciences. Sér II Méc Phys Chim Astron 322:323Google Scholar
  54. Perezgasga L, Silva E, Lazcano A, Negrón-Mendoza A (2003) The sulfocyanic theory on the origin of life: towards a critical reappraisal of an autotrophic theory. Int J Astrobiol 2:301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Piñero D (1996) La teoría de la evolución en la biología mexicana: una hispótesis nula. Ciencias 40:13Google Scholar
  56. Ruiz R (1987) Positivismo y evolución: Introducción del darwinismo en México. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, MéxicoGoogle Scholar
  57. Sanger F (1949) The terminal peptides of insulin. Biochem J 45:563CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  58. Secord JA (1990) The curious case of Acarus crossii. Nature 345:471CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Secord JA (2003) Victorian sensation: the extraordinary publication, reception, and secret authorship of vestiges of the natural history of creation. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  60. Sierra J (1875) El espiritismo y el Liceo Hidalgo El Federalista, MéxicoGoogle Scholar
  61. Sierra J (1879) Compendio de la Historia de la Antigüedad. Imprenta de José María Sandoval, MéxicoGoogle Scholar
  62. Spencer H (1864) First principles. D. Appleton and Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  63. Stott R (2013) Darwin’s ghosts: in search of the first evolutionists. Bloomsbury, LondonGoogle Scholar
  64. Strick JE (2004) Creating a cosmic discipline: the crystallization and consolidation of exobiology, 1957-1973. J Hist Biol 37:131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Tang D, Rohaida Che Hak C, Thompson AJ, Kuimova MK, Williams D, Perriman AW, Mann S (2014) Fatty acid membrane assembly on coacervate microdroplets as a step towards a hybrid protocell model. Nat Chem 6:527–533CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Watson JD, Crick FHC (1953) Molecular structure of nucleic acids: a structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid. Nature 171:737CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Woese CR (1967) The genetic code: the molecular basis for genetic expression. Harper & Row, New YorkGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Facultad de Estudios Superiores Iztacala de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)TlanepantlaMexico
  2. 2.Earth-Life Science InstituteTokyo Institute of TechnologyTokyoJapan
  3. 3.The Institute for Advanced StudyPrincetonUSA
  4. 4.Blue Marble Space Institute of ScienceWashingtonUSA
  5. 5.Center for Chemical EvolutionGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations