In a recent concept article published in Chemistry: A European Journal, Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy of the Scripps Research Institute discusses current approaches to studying the origins ‐and evolution‐ of life. Many studies of life’s origins take a ‘top down’ approach, starting with extant biology and extrapolating life’s molecules and pathways backwards in time. This approach provides clues as to how biomolecules used by life today could have arisen from prebiotic chemistry. Krishnamurthy argues that this approach sets up life-as-we-know-it as the ‘sole end goal’ of origins research. A different, ‘bottom up’ approach begins with prebiotic reaction mixtures that theoretically could have been present on the early Earth, and examines the processes and systems that can emerge. Krishnamurthy discusses how this approach allows for the emergence of many possibilities rather than focusing only on life-as-we-know-it. The discussion also highlights how approaches to the question of life’s origins can impact the criteria we use to search for signatures of life beyond our own planet.

The study, “Life’s Biological Chemistry: A Destiny or Destination Starting from Prebiotic Chemistry?,” was published in the journal Chemistry: A European Journal. The work was supported by NASA Astrobiology through the Exobiology Program and the NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution (CCE) at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. The CCE is a collaborative program supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the NASA Astrobiology Program.