What were the chemical processes that started life on Earth? Biochemist Art Weber is trying to answer this question by studying prebiotically plausible chemical reactions in the lab – reactions that might have been responsible for biogenesis.
Art’s experiments have shown that sugars are unsurpassed in their ability to undergo spontaneous self-transformation reactions in water. Consequently, for the past decade he’s been investigating the prebiotic synthesis of sugars and their subsequent reactions in the presence of ammonia that yield a complex mixture of chemical products whose activities are essential to the origin of life, and even combine to form semi-solid microspherules that could have provided a primitive cell-like, catalytic environment. The ultimate goal of his research effort is to develop a model, self-replicating system that resembles the birth of life on Earth, and can be artificially evolved to a more dynamic and complex state.