The origin and nature of life, as well as its presence beyond planet Earth, are questions that fascinate the general public and inspire scientists from many disciplines. At the Origins 2023 Conference: from exoplanets to ecosystems, we address these and other questions in an energising science event. Will you be there?
Dutch science is leading the world in interdisciplinary research into the origins and evolution of life. Collaboration pays off. The Origins Center is energizing these new, cross-disciplinary forms of collaboration. Progressive projects that lead to remarkable results.
Life developed around certain groups of minerals and molecules, such as hydrocarbons. But which exactly did it begin with and why? Were these substances present in the oceans - the primordial soup? Why they developed?
Self-replication, metabolism and compartmentalization are at the core of the definition of "life". Living systems can copy themselves, convert energy and matter, and have a way to protect themselves from the environment. Movement is also very important. These lifelike functions may already have appeared in a lifeless environment.
Evolution according to Darwin is a continuous cycle of replication and associated mutations. Errors during the replication unintentionally give a system less or more effective properties. Some properties remain, others disappear. Through this selection individual systems appear that have new properties and functions.
At a certain time chemistry turned into biology. Perhaps a chemical ball developed into a primal cell with properties of life. Or did the properties of life first develop into a rock pore? How did all the processes that led to life came together?
Life is determined by the environment in which it is located, both the local environment and cthe entire planet. However, in turn life has a major influence on local environments and even the entire planet.
The emergence of complex relationships between mutations (genotype) and their effects on life (phenotype)
The separation between genotype and phenotype marks an important phase in the development of life. It gives evolution more possibilities to make inventions with the help of mutations and environmental factors.
All life forms we now know have essentially the same biochemistry, based on DNA, RNA and a large group of proteins. But why those? There are many other sets of protein molecules imaginable that are not used. Why is that?
The first living cells are called prokaryotes. They have no cell nucleus, so the primal DNA simply floats loose in the cell. What steps resulted in such a first living primordial cell and how did this cell function exactly?
From the enormous variety of primordial cells (prokaryotes) a eukaryotic cell probably originated once. That cell had a separate cell nucleus and also other organelles, such as mitochondria that regulate cell respiration. This one cell is the ancestor of all the life we can see around us: trees, plants, insects, animals and therefore also us humans.
In multicellular life, cells give up all or part of their autonomy by becoming part of a larger organism. How do cells get that far? Do they benefit from that? And how is it possible that the collective form becomes the new entity that replicates and evolves?
Groundbreaking research projects, international collaboration on space missions, revolutionary discoveries of new species on Earth: the Origins Center identifies, selects and shares news about the origins and evolution of life.
Sijbren Otto receives James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry
Prof. Sijbren Otto of the Stratingh Institute for Chemistry and member of the Steering Committee of the Origins Center Netherlands has been awarded the James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry.
In the Netherlands, about 300 scientists are engaged in research into life and evolution every day. Sometimes in small projects, sometimes in large collaborations. The Origins Center is connecting these researchers in Knowledge Networks.
Origin and co-evolution of earth-like planets and life
The Earth is currently the only place where life is known to exist. Wouldn't it be great if we found other planets on which life exists? Techniques are available to answer that question over the next decades.
Thanks to evolution, the great diversity of life came into being. If we could predict or control the course of evolution, we would be able to solve major social problems. Preventing bee extinction, for example; or tackling resistant bacteria; and we may even reverse environmental pollution.
Building and repairing life - from molecule to ecosystem
Living organisms are constantly interacting with their environment. This happens at the scale of (bio)molecules to cells and from animals and plants to complete ecosystems. Researchers want to know exactly how life functions. If that insight improves, we can repair broken life, treat (genetic) diseases and rebuild lost ecosystems.
If we can say that life exists outside of the Earth, it changes our view of humanity's role in the Universe. Is the Earth really unique as the cradle of life? Technological developments will enable researchers to find the answer in the coming decades
Research into the origins and evolution of life requires a great deal of imagination from scientists. They have to make comparisons between situations that are billions of years apart. They also must relate molecular processes to entire ecosystems. This requires detailed computer models that can make these leaps in time and scale easy to handle.
Prior to the emergence of life, chemistry was likely producing both left- and right-hand versions of hydrocarbons in equal proportions. These molecules are called chiral molecules. In contrast, life has emerged from only one of the two versions of these chiral molecules. This preference for one handedness has become a fingerprint of living systems, from molecules to plants and animals. It has fascinated scientists from Darwin's time into the 21st century.