IN RETROSPECT The Origin of Life

Clifford P. Brangwynne and Anthony A. Hyman celebrate the first book to plausibly suggest how life began.

Aleksandr Oparin (seated) posited that life emerged from compounds in the atmosphere of early Earth.
“No religious or philosophical system, no outstanding thinker ever failed to give this question serious consideration.” So wrote Aleksandr Oparin more than 75 years ago, about the quintessential conundrum of how life self-assembled from inanimate components. The Soviet biochemist’s answer is his book The Origin of Life (1936). Roughly based on a pamphlet he published in 1924, this book is an enormous contribution to our understanding of life’s improbable beginnings. In it, Oparin argues that conditions on early Earth nurtured the synthesis of amino acids and their assembly into protocells.

Tony Hyman. NATURE | VOL 491 | 22 NOVEMBER 2012