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The Origins Center is the national knowledge centre for research, networking and news on the origins and evolution of life. Are we alone? Your mission starts here.

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Research

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.

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Our research themes

The formation and early evolution of Earth-like planets and moons

For the time being, we assume that life as we know it originated on Earth. Before it could arise, therefore, a habitable planet was needed.

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The emergence of the right conditions for the origin of life

The first one and a half billion years were crucial for the emergence of life. Weathering, sedimentation, volcanism, and the onset of plate tectonics led to the right conditions for life to emerge.

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The emergence of molecules relevant to life

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?

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The emergence of life-like functions

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.

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The emergence of Darwinian evolution

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.

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The emergence of life

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?

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The interaction between life and its environment

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.

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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.

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The emergence of contemporary biochemistry

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?

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The emergence of the living cell (prokaryotes)

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?

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The emergence of eukaryotes

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.

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The emergence of multicellular life

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?

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Top stories

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.

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Astronomers find phosphine in Venus atmosphere. What's Next?

British and American researchers have detected phosphine in the acidic cloud cover of our neighboring planet Venus. Does this mean that there is life on Venus? The work of Dutch researchers affiliated with the Origins Center connects directly to this discovery in the Venus atmosphere.

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Life on other planets: closer than you think?

Are we alone in the universe? Or is there life on other planets as well? There are many television series, films and books about this, but scientists are also working to find answers. Astrobiologist Floris van der Tak investigates places with the greatest chance of life. But can we ever go there? (Dutch)

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If the universe is teeming with life, where are the UFOs?

The Universe has many stars and even more planets. So, it would be very strange if there was no life anywhere else to be found. But where can we find that life? And what does that life look like? Dutch research looks at the Earth as an example. (Dutch)

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Our Networks

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.

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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.

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Predicting evolution of life

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.

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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.

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Finding extraterrestrial life

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

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Bridging long temporal and spatial scales

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.

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Emergence of homochirality in living systems

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.

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