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Top 10 theories of the origin of life

Top 10 theories of the origin of life

March 28, 2024

It is estimated that the planet Earth has existed since 4550 million years ago. On the other hand, life as we know it seems to have arisen about a billion years later. But where does it come from? This question has been formulated by philosophers and scientists for many centuries and has given rise to different theories about its origins.

In Western culture, these theories have their foundation, either in Christianity or in science. In this sense, the proposals range from the will of a divine being to the evolution of our genetic material, through the interventions of cosmic material and the composition of inert matter. In this article we will review 10 of the main theories about the origin of life on Earth .

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10 theories about the origin of life

As we have said, the theories about the origins of life on earth range from the proposals of Christianity to the most complex scientific hypotheses; largely developed by the physical, chemical and biological sciences. We present below a tour of these proposals.

1. Theory of creationism

The most widespread biblical account of the origins of life suggests that it occurred through the intervention and will of a divine being. In the book of genesis, within the old testament, it is explained that this being was dedicated to generating the different states and living beings as we know them. In the course of seven days, he created the sky and the earth, to later originate the light, the darkness, the seas, the vegetation, the sun and the moon, the animals; the man and the woman; and finally, he rested.

This is the theory that has been most prevalent in Western societies through the centuries , until the progress in research heirs of the Scientific Revolution questioned it.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Creationism: what it is and why it causes controversy"

2. Theory of genesis under ice

One of the proposals about the origins of life on earth is that billions of years ago, the oceans were completely covered by a layer of very thick ice. Being such a thick layer, even half a hundred meters, it was possible that organic compounds were very well protected from external agents, and before the sun itself, which was previously much more powerful given the conditions of planet earth.

So that, the strong protection of the ice sheet could generate a safe interaction of the microorganisms , and finally create ways of life.

3. Theory of electrical activity

Broadly speaking, this theory proposes that electric currents can produce simple amino acids and sugars, from different chemical compounds also simple that are found in the atmosphere. In this sense, life would be originated as consequence of the presence of lightning that, by coming into contact with the elements of the earth's atmosphere, may have been responsible for originating the first and most basic forms of life.

4. Panspermia

The panspermia proposes that life on earth began from rocks, meteorites and remains of cosmic material that have impacted our planet since its first moments of existence. Said material is supposed to be transported through cosmic dust, and maintained in the earth by the action of gravity. The panspermia proposes that the existence of these remains could generate the organic and bacterial material necessary to generate life . It was first proposed by the German biologist Hermann Ritcher in the year 1865.

5. Spontaneous generation

Spontaneous generation is one of the oldest and most well-known theories about the origins of life. Broadly proposes that life is generated spontaneously or naturally from the microorganisms present in inert matter. In its oldest forms, the theory of spontaneous generation considered that life is created because some inert materials can originate living organisms (for example, the manure generate flies).

In this context, the experiment conducted by the Italian physician Francesco Redi, who tried to prove that inert matter does not generate life, but attracts it, is classic. What he did was leave a piece of meat exposed, and another piece of meat inside a closed jar. Checked that the flies did not come from the meat, but from the eggs that other flies leave when it was exposed. Finally, it was Louis Pasteur who proved that microorganisms do not arise from inert matter but are in the air, and that matter only attracts them.

6. Theory of abiogenesis

Reformulating the spontaneous generation theory, the theory of abiogenesis has arisen, which proposes that there is a natural process in the inert matter from which life arises. For example, it is proposed that life on earth began when water vapor could finally condense, because this generated geochemical and astronomical processes that in turn originated the minimum genome. From this it follows that spontaneous generation could have been a real process, but millions of years ago (not in the current state of our planet).

Likewise, the theory of abiogenesis suggests that life was generated by different chemical reactions that gradually allowed the most primitive organisms to evolve .

7. Theory of underwater suckers

In the depth of the ocean there are hydrothermal vents, also known as thermal water vents or hydrothermal vents. These are cracks and fumaroles that allow the passage of steam and hot water. These vents have very extensive ecosystems. According to this theory, the ocean environment rich in nutrients, together with reactive gases, could create the necessary habitat to generate the first life forms.

In other words, the origins of life as we know them could have taken place inside the hydrothermal vents ; question that also takes up the proposals on what could have happened under the ice sheets that previously covered the oceans.

8. Theory of RNA (and proteins)

Ribonucleic acid is the compound that is currently considered crucial in the organization and expression of our genetic material. It works together with the deoxyribonucleic acid, the DNA, transferring and systematizing the vital information that the latter generates. It is a kind of DNA messenger and has the ability to regulate itself more automatically. The theory of the generation of life that is explained through the RNA, says that it occurred by a spontaneous outbreak of RNA on our planet .

Given this, an important question has emerged: what came first: RNA or proteins? Some theories postulate that without the synthesis of the latter, the RNA could not have emerged, let alone spontaneously; since the most basic components of proteins are too complex.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Differences between DNA and RNA"

9. Theory of genesis below the mud

There is also the proposal that life on earth evolved from the concentration of mud. This is so since such concentration could serve as a condensation area of ​​chemical activity; which finally could give rise to a kind of "breeding ground" of the necessary components to generate genetic material (DNA and RNA).

10. Theory of metabolism

In contrast to the theories of RNA, the theories of metabolism say very broadly that chemical elements and atmospheric nutrients simply continued to react over time, producing increasingly complex molecules . Thus, gradually, it gave rise to the first forms of life and later to life as we know it.

Bibliographic references:

  • Marshall, M. (2016). The secret of how life on earth began. BBC Retrieved July 10, 2018. Available at //
  • Futurism (2015). Abiogenesis: 7 scientific theories for the origin of life ... and one new one! Retrieved July 10, 2018. Available at //
  • Daminelli, A. & Santa Cruz, D. (2007). Origins of life. Estudos Avançados 21 (59): 263-285.

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