The University of Arizona

Mutability: Key to the Nature and Origin of Life

On November 18, 2011, Professor Nick Woolf gave a lecture entitled Mutability: Key to the Nature and Origin of Life as part of the University of Arizona's Astrobiology Lecture Series. A short description of the lecture is below, and you can download the slides from the lecture (pdf format).
 
Mutability: Key to the Nature and Origin of Life 
Prof. N. Woolf 
Oparin recognized three characteristics of life, metabolism, reproduction and mutability.  Mutability is the capacity to modify, and so evolve by natural selection.  Non-living crystals in the right dissipative environment can both grow and reproduce, but mutability is the specific feature that distinguishes life. For terrestrial life, the diversity needed for mutability arises from the diversity of carbon compounds.  Initial selection of compounds is by water.  Phosphorus is needed to make condensation reactions.  Nitrogen is needed to provide an alternate termination to molecules than carboxyl acids, so that polymers can be strung end to end.  Sugars provide H and OH radicals to complete condensation reactions and nucleobases select where reactions take place.  These aspects were combined in the production of a first organism with a single mutable gene that copied itself.