Cover image for Life's origin : the beginnings of biological evolution
Life's origin : the beginnings of biological evolution
Schopf, J. William, 1941-
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
208 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Historical understanding of life's beginnings / John Or -- From big bang to primordial planet : setting the stage for the origin of life / Alan W. Schwartz and Sherwood Chang -- Formation of the building blocks of life / Stanley L. Miller and Antonio Lazcano -- From building blocks to the polymers of life / James P. Ferris -- The origin of biological information / Leslie E. Orgel -- When did life begin? / J. William Schopf.
Reading Level:
1460 Lexile.
Subject Term:
Electronic Access:
Table of contents

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH325 .L694 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Always a controversial and compelling topic, the origin of life on Earth was considered taboo as an area of inquiry for science as recently as the 1950s. Since then, however, scientists working in this area have made remarkable progress, and an overall picture of how life emerged is coming more clearly into focus. We now know, for example, that the story of life's origin begins not on Earth, but in the interiors of distant stars. This book brings a summary of current research and ideas on life's origin to a wide audience. The contributors, all of whom received the Oparin/Urey Gold Medal of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life, are luminaries in the fields of chemistry, paleobiology, and astrobiology, and in these chapters they discuss their life's work: understanding the what, when, and how of the early evolution of life on Earth. Presented in nontechnical language and including a useful glossary of scientific terms, Life's Origin gives a state-of-the-art encapsulation of the fascinating work now being done by scientists as they begin to characterize life as a natural outcome of the evolution of cosmic matter.

Author Notes

J. William Schopf is Professor of Paleobiology and Director of the IGPP Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is author of Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils (1999) and Missing Fossils: Solution to the Mystery of Photosynthesis (1998), and has edited several other volumes.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This very good book fills a need for a multidisciplinary view of what is, in reality, a very complex topic. Few people realize that the study of the origin of life is a very specific research domain that was fueled primarily by NASA funding in the later part of the 20th century. This short edited volume reflects the "chemo-centric" approach taken by some of these NASA-funded academic researchers over the years. The historical overview by Oro adds an insightful personal narrative. Miller and Lazcano present a thoughtful and comprehensive view of abiogenesis. The other chapters present some of the mainstream thinking of American workers on origins of life research and will give even casual readers a solid and rational starting point from which to proceed into what can be a very murky area of science. This field is changing rapidly; Schopf's best-known work on the earliest fossils is now seriously disputed in the primary literature. The result is that some of the most basic aspects of life's origins are not adequately addressed in this volume, but overall it presents a classic, rational, and substantial overview. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through faculty; two-year technical program students. P. K. Strother Boston College

Table of Contents

J. William SchopfJohn OroAlan W. Schwartz and Sherwood ChangStanley L. Miller and Antonio LazcanoJames P. FerrisLeslie E. OrgelJ. William Schopf
Introduction: The What, When, and How of Life's Beginningsp. 1
1. Historical Understanding of Life's Beginningsp. 7
What Is Life?p. 7
Beliefs and Hypotheses on the Origin of Lifep. 12
Chemical Evolutionp. 15
Personal Reminiscencesp. 20
Cosmological Evolution and the Origin of Lifep. 25
The Earth-Moon Systemp. 29
Exploration of the Solar Systemp. 35
Life beyond the Solar Systemp. 37
Epiloguep. 39
Referencesp. 41
2. From Big Bang to Primordial Planet: Setting the Stage for the Origin of Lifep. 46
Introductionp. 46
Origin of the Biogenic Elementsp. 48
Origin of the Solar Systemp. 50
Earthp. 64
Further Readingp. 75
3. Formation of the Building Blocks of Lifep. 78
Introductionp. 78
The Heterotrophic Origin of Lifep. 81
Prebiotic Synthesis of Amino Acidsp. 84
Prebiotic Synthesis of Nucleic Acid Basesp. 92
Prebiotic Synthesis of Sugarsp. 98
Hydrothermal Vents and the Origin of Lifep. 100
Extraterrestrial Organic Compounds and Prebiotic Evolutionp. 103
An Autotrophic Origin of Life?p. 105
Have Too Many Cooks Spoiled the Soup?p. 107
Referencesp. 109
4. From Building Blocks to the Polymers of Lifep. 113
The Biopolymers in the First Lifep. 113
The RNA World: The Prebiotic Synthesis of RNAp. 120
The Role of Polypeptides in the Origin of Lifep. 126
Conclusionsp. 135
Referencesp. 137
Further Readingp. 139
5. The Origin of Biological Informationp. 140
Introductionp. 140
The RNA Worldp. 142
What's Wrong with the Molecular Biologist's Dream?p. 150
The Metabolist Argumentp. 154
Conclusion and Outlookp. 154
Referencesp. 155
6. When Did Life Begin?p. 158
Introductionp. 158
Evidence from Living Organismsp. 159
Evidence from the Rock Recordp. 166
When Was Earth Ready for Life?p. 174
The What and When of Life's Beginningsp. 178
Further Readingp. 178
List of Contributorsp. 181
Glossaryp. 185
Indexp. 205