Understanding the origin of life is arguably one of the most compelling quests for humanity. This quest has inevitably moved beyond the puzzle of life on Earth to whether there's life elsewhere in the universe. Is life on Earth a fluke? Or is life as natural as the universal laws of physics?
Jeremy England, a biophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is trying to answer these profound questions. In 2013, he formulated a hypothesis that physics may spontaneously trigger chemicals to organize themselves in ways that seed "life-like" qualities.
Now, new research by England and a colleague suggests that physics may naturally produce self-replicating chemical reactions, one of the first steps toward creating life from inanimate substances.
In a study published July 18 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, England and co-author Jordan Horowitz tested their hypothesis. They carried out computer simulations on a closed system (or a system that doesn't exchange heat or matter with its surroundings) containing a "soup" of 25 chemicals.
Under certain initial conditions, he found that these chemicals may optimize the energy applied to the system by self-organizing and undergoing intense reactions to self-replicate. The chemicals fine-tuned themselves naturally.
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