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Life: autonomy in evolution. An essay on the origins and nature of biological organization.

The project I would like to embark on during my stay at the Stellenbosch Institute involves writing an essay on life’s complexity and on the process that could lead to its emergence. Minimal life forms (e.g., microbial parasites – like Mycoplasma, or artificially simplified versions of these unicellular organisms) are enormously intricate systems, especially when compared to the most sophisticated chemical reaction networks that humankind has, so far, been able to implement “from the bottom-up” (e.g., populations of self-assembling protocells in competition for limited resources, or ribonucleotides undergoing artificial selection in vitro). This brings us to the important conclusion that biogenesis should not be conceived as a process in which matter suddenly ‘self-organizes’ from a combination of organic and inorganic components present on the prebiotic Earth: instead, the origins of life ought to be reconsidered as an extended sequence of distinguishable stages and transitions, as a result of which individuals, populations and ecological relationships of increasing complexity develop. In other words, a more encompassing theoretical framework must be elaborated, bringing forth a scenario where both organizational and evolutionary principles, fundamental to reach a deeper and more complete understanding of biological phenomena, intermingle and make possible the emergence of the last universal common ancestor of all living organisms on Earth.


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Is any information on this page incorrect or outdated? Please notify Ms. Nel-Mari Loock at [email protected].