Origin of life  updated October 3, 2005  ©D. Carrigan carrigan@fnal.gov (subject line must be sensible)

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Origin of life

The Big Bang of Biology offers some key insights into the possible origin of life. At this point many of the answers about the origin of life are not known but with increasing study of subjects like astrobiology they may emerge in the next several decades. Progress in all of this work is tightly linked to the other pillars of science. Of course in other solar systems life may have followed a different path because conditions were different. One interesting speculation is that life did not emerge here but drifted in from some other place. This is called panspermia.


The idea that something like spores drifting in from outer space may have initiated life on earth is an old one (see David Darling's review). One much discussed possibility is that some Martian meteors striking the earth contained spore material. One Martian meteor (ALH84001) has presented controversial evidence for Martian fossils. An important question is whether a spore could survive the radiation insults of outer space. The panspermia hypothesis has been vigorously pursued by Hoyle and Wickramasinghe. They studied the occurrence of molecular clouds in outer space containing organic chemicals. There is little or no evidence for panspermia. Note that panspermia does not explain the origin of life, only how it might have arrived at earth.

Anthropic principle

A direct link between particle physics–cosmology and biology is posited by the anthropic principle as discussed by Brandon Carter.  Bjorken speaks to this in a recent article abstracted on the right side of this page. In brief, the anthropic principle suggests we have our universe because it is the only universe that works for us. The actual theses for this principle can be considerably more complicated. A particularly telling argument is the so-called triple-alpha reaction pushed by Fred Hoyle. For myself I wonder if this point of view does not suffer from some of the problem with “Rare Earth.” “Life” out there may be considerably more diverse and robust than we credit it with. We need to ask the question posed by Schrödinger, namely "What is Life?"

Cosmology and the standard model

James D. Bjorken*

Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94309

published 26 February 2003

Physical Review D 67, 043508 (2003)

“… it is well known, … that other properties of our universe are very finely tuned and will only exist over a quite small bandwidth. We shall pay special attention to such ‘‘anthropic’’ constraints, as discussed for example in the book by Barrow and Tipler and will be interested in the bandwidth in R for which they are satisfied.”… Crucial to the properties of nuclear and atomic matter are the values of the fine-structure constant - here constrained to a reasonable range of values, the ratio of electron to proton mass, the ratio of pion to proton mass, and the neutron proton mass difference ….Finally, we may consider the mechanism for producing carbon in stars. This depends upon the existence of the anthropically famous  triple-alpha reaction …with the resonance in 12C predicted by Hoyle  together with the absence of a crucial level in 16O.”