Towards a General Definition of Life

  • Marko VitasEmail author
  • Andrej Dobovišek
Theoretical Paper


A new definition of life is proposed and discussed in the present article. It is formulated by modifying and extending NASA’s working definition of life, which postulates that life is a “self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution”. The new definition includes a thermodynamical aspect of life as a far from equilibrium system and considers the flow of information from the environment to the living system. In our derivation of the definition of life we have assumed the hypothesis, that during the emergence of life evolution had to first involve autocatalytic systems that only subsequently acquired the capacity of genetic heredity. The new proposed definition of life is independent of the mode of evolution, regardless of whether Lamarckian or Darwinian evolution operated at the origins of life and throughout evolutionary history. The new definition of life presented herein is formulated in a minimal manner and it is general enough that it does not distinguish between individual (metabolic) network and the collective (ecological) one. The newly proposed definition of life may be of interest for astrobiology, research into the origins of life or for efforts to produce synthetic or artificial life, and it furthermore may also have implications in the cognitive and computer sciences.


Origins of life Darwinian evolution Lamarck Chemical evolution Definition of life Far from equilibrium systems 



We would like to sincerely thank everyone who directly or indirectly contributed to the creation of this work. In particular, we would like to thank Michael J. Russell, Pasquale Stano, Andreas Kappler, Antoine Danchin and André Brack for providing us with some clues on relevant literature references and for fruitful discussions. We would also like to thank Kristina Alice Waller for helping us with suggestions on the proper use of English expressions. Andrej Dobovišek also acknowledges the financial support of the Slovenian Research Agency (research core funding No. P1-0055).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no competing financial interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.1353 BorovnicaSlovenia
  2. 2.Faculty of Natural Sciences and MathematicsUniversity of MariborMariborSlovenia
  3. 3.Faculty of MedicineUniversity of MariborMariborSlovenia

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