Origin & Evolution of Life

Autocatalytic Reactions And The Search For Life

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
October 2, 2023
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Autocatalytic Reactions And The Search For Life
Autocatalytic Reactions And The Search For Life

NASA-supported researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have written a “cookbook” of chemical recipes that could aid in the search for life beyond Earth.

The team focused on molecules involved in autocatalytic reactions, which are reactions that produce molecules that then help the reaction occur again. These types of repetitive reactions could have been essential in the origin of life, when basic chemical ingredients on Earth began to react in complex cycles, ultimately leading to features of life like cell metabolism and reproduction.

By reviewing two centuries of scientific literature, the researchers compiled a list of 270 combinations of molecules across the periodic table that, under the right conditions, could sustain autocatalysis. The data can be used in laboratory experiments simulating multiple planetary conditions, providing insight into how and where these ingredients could come together to form more and more complex cycles.

The work was performed by members of the NASA-supported Interdisciplinary Consortium for Astrobiology Research (ICAR) called MUSE (Metal Utilization & Selection Across Eons).

Click here to read an article concerning this research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study, “Assessment of Stoichiometric Autocatalysis across Element Groups,” was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.


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