Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

Living Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, William M. Irvine, Ricardo Amils, Henderson James Cleaves, Daniele Pinti, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Michel Viso


  • Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo
  • Alvaro Moreno
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27833-4_879-2


Although it is rather controversial whether the term “life” will ever fit into a definition, it could be conceived as “autonomy in evolution”: a complex network of self-reproducing autonomous agents whose individual (far-from-equilibrium, metabolic) organization is instructed by material records generated through an open-ended, historical process, in which that complex (collective-ecological) network evolves. In a minimal – and more operational – sense, this involves that any living system should be ultimately based on the dynamic intertwinement of a semi-permeable boundary (membrane), an energy transduction apparatus, and, at least, two complementary types of macromolecules: (enzyme-like) catalysts and (gene-like) templates.


In spite of its multifarious meanings and the intrinsic difficulty it has shown over the years to become a well-defined unanimous generalization, the concept “life” can still be regarded as a proper scientific target, with its own specific...


Synthetic Biology Natural Kind Artificial Life Living Form Cooperative Relation 
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References and Further Reading

  1. Benner SA, Ricardo A, Carrigan MA (2004) Is there a common chemical model for life in the universe? Curr Opin Chem Biol 8:672–689CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cleland CE, Chyba CF (2007) Does “life” have a definition? In: Woodruff TS III, John AB (eds) Planets and life: the emerging science of astrobiology. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  3. Dupré J, O’Malley MA (2009) Varieties of living things: life at the intersection of lineage and metabolism. Phil Theor Biol 1(e003):1–25Google Scholar
  4. Gánti T (2003) The principles of life. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Gayon J et al (eds) (2010) Special issue on “definining life.” Origins Life Evol Biospheres 40:119–244Google Scholar
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  16. Rizzotti M (ed) (1996) Defining life: the central problem in theoretical biology? Padova University Press, PadovaGoogle Scholar
  17. Ruiz-Mirazo K, Peretó J, Moreno A (2004) A universal definition of life: autonomy and open-ended evolution. Origins Life Evol Biospheres 34:323–346ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Schrödinger E (1944) What is life? The physical aspect of the living cell. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  19. Shapiro R, Feinberg G (1990) Possible forms of life in environments very different from the Earth. In: Leslie J (ed) Physical cosmology and philosophy. McMillan, New York, pp 248–255Google Scholar
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  21. Ward P, Brownlee D (2000) Rare Earth: why complex life is uncommon in the Universe. Copernicus, New YorkGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, FICE, UPV-EHUBiophysics Research Unit (CSIC – UPV/EHU)DonostiaSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de Lógica y Filosofía de la CienciaUniversidad del País VascoSan SebastiánSpain