Origins of Life – Santa Fe Institute’s New Online Course


I’m Chris Kempes, professor at the Santa
Fe Institute, and I would like to invite you to join us for a new course on the
origins of life. How life began is one of the most challenging and interesting
questions in all of science. It is hard to imagine a more exciting goal than
understanding the process that led from a completely abiotic world to the
enormous complexity of life that we currently see. Even at the scale of a
single cell, life is amazingly complex, let alone communities of multicellular
organisms. A unique challenge for this type of research in comparison historical
biological science is that we are trying to create a general theory from a single
instance of the life that we know. Despite all of its diversity, the life
that we know comes from a single common ancestor, thus all of the comparative
techniques that we’ve often relied on elsewhere in biology – many of which we
will review in this course – cannot be used here because we only have a single
instance. The origins of life demands of us to create a general theory before we
have seen the full range of possible occurrences and this is both a
fascinating and hard scientific challenge. What also makes origins of
life research challenging is the need to draw on detailed knowledge from diverse
fields, spanning Earth Sciences, Chemistry, Physics, and Applied Mathematics. The goal
of this course is to review the key insights from all of these disciplines
with a particular focus on the types of features that are general and should be
ingredients for any theory of life – for example, what can we say about the
principles of evolution independent of being tied to a specific mechanism of
genetic inheritance? Similarly, what can be said of the connection between
thermodynamics and life in general? Producing a general theory of life will
allow us to not only interpret the origin of the lineage that we currently
see, but also understand how many other origins might have been possible and to
consider the potential competition between lineages. We can also ask what
diverse forms of life might have been possible how easy was it to form life on
our planet, and in general, what are the requirements and likelihoods of forming
life across a variety of planetary beyond Earth? These ideas are truly at the
frontier of scientific knowledge and I invite you to participate in our course
starting June 14.

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