Physical Aspects of the Origin of Life Problem

Albert Libchaber

Rockefeller University

- DNA in a temperature gradient: Temperature differences across porous rocks may feed accumulation and replication of evolving molecules. Such non-equilibrium conditions near porous thermal submarine vents are pieces in the fascinating puzzle of the origin of life.
- In the RNA world of the early soup we are studying how a genetic code could originate, building an RNA ribozyme that can charge an amino acid without enzymes, a primitive tRNA. We also show that the initial code could have started with four amino acids only: valine (GUC), alanine (GCC), glycine (GGC), aspartate (GAC).
- Encapsulation of cells in a membrane is another step in this puzzle. Building an artificial cell based on gene expression inside vesicles reveal the physical constraints to overcome: energy exchange, osmotic pressure, sources and sinks for protein production. This cell can sustain protein production for about one week. Self reproduction will be the next step.