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Orig Life Evol Biosph. 1996 Feb;26(1):61-73.

Origins of life: a comparison of theories and application to Mars.

Author information

  • 1Space Science Division, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000, USA.
  • 2ARC


The field of study that deals with the origins of life does not have a consensus for a theory of life's origin. An analysis of the range of theories offered shows that they share some common features that may be reliable predictors when considering the possible origins of life on another planet. The fundamental datum dealing with the origins of life is that life appeared early in the history of the Earth, probably before 3.5 Ga and possibly before 3.8 Ga. What might be called the standard theory (the Oparin-Haldane theory) posits the production of organic molecules on the early Earth followed by chemical reactions that produced increased organic complexity leading eventually to organic life capable of reproduction, mutation, and selection using organic material as nutrients. A distinct class of other theories (panspermia theories) suggests that life was carried to Earth from elsewhere--these theories receive some support from recent work on planetary impact processes. Other alternatives to the standard model suggest that life arose as an inorganic (clay) form and/or that the initial energy source was not organic material but chemical energy or sunlight. We find that the entire range of current theories suggests that liquid water is the quintessential environmental criterion for both the origin and sustenance of life. It is therefore of interest that during the time that life appeared on Earth we have evidence for liquid water present on the surface of Mars.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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