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Chaos & Complex Systems Seminar
Energy, evolution, and the origins of life?
Date: Tuesday, April 23rd
Time: 12:05 pm - 1:00 pm
Place: 4274 Chamberlin (refreshments will be served)
Speaker: Terry Allard, Office of Naval Research and NASA
Abstract: It’s human nature to look for a deep understanding of who we are, where we came from and where we’re going. This presentation will explore a new hypothesis for the evolution of life articulated by Professor Nick Lane in his ground-breaking 2015 book, The Vital Question. We will review the timeline of emerging life on earth and the evolutionary relationships among the three Kingdoms: Bacteria, Archaea and Eurkaryotes. All living cells are powered by proton gradients across membranes and the secret of life is maintaining this disequilibrium through active proton pumps based on energy metabolism. Acceleration of energy production within Eukaryotes can explain the exponential growth in the complexity of life from single cells to whole organisms. Proton gradients across membranes at alkaline hydrothermal vents in the early oceans provide an explanation of how inorganic chemistry could drive organic chemistry; mechanisms of organic chemistry supporting life may have evolved before the emergence of the cell itself. This bioenergetic hypothesis suggests a very specific context for the emergence of life on earth that could be a critical variable for the search for complex life in the universe.

Primary Source Material

Nick Lane, The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution and the Origins of Complex Life (2015). W. W. Norton & Company, New York City.

Some Discussion Points

1) What is life?

2) What do the 3 Kingdoms of Life have in common and how do they differ?

3) What are the impacts of lateral gene transfer on linear descendance and the Tree of Life?

4) How does the chemistry of the ancient oceans compare to today’s oceans?

5) How did organic chemistry and cell structures emerge?

6) How likely is extraterrestrial life in the universe?
Host: Clint Sprott
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