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Technical presentations, 6K
The Mineral Origins of Life
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A characteristic feature of living things is that they look as if they had been designed. We might say that they are pieces of engineering, and that Darwin discovered the engineer in the process of evolution through natural selection. The big problem now is how this engineer first set to work. Natural selection depends on systems that can reproduce and reliably pass on detailed information through copies of copies over, perhaps, geological stretches of time. But the central apparatus on which all this now utterly depends, DNA and its molecular handmaidens, is clearly a product of evolution as well as, now, the means of it. A possible way out of this fix is to look for truly primitive genetic materials that could have supported some earlier stages of 'engineering' that would eventually make possible such molecules as RNA and then DNA. The permutable character of polytypes and mixed layer materials, common among minerals, is of particular interest in such a quest. The author set out his thoughts on the subject but admitted that none of this work has been done in the laboratory and so researchers would have to find the proof.

(Professor A G Cairns-Smith - 10 November 2004)

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